EU funds - a new face for justice and fundamental rights
The role of the EU in the field of justice, rights and citizenship has increased with the Treaty of Lisbon. This aspect is meant to be reflected in the revision of EU funding in these areas.
The European Commission has presented its legislative proposals concerning EU funding in the area of justice and fundamental rights for the period 2014-2020. The significant simplification of the framework is evident, as just two Programmes would now integrate areas and priorities currently dispersed over a number of Programmes. The ‘areas of action’ range from transnational cooperation and mutual trust among stakeholders to an improved understanding of potential issues affecting the exercise of rights and principles guaranteed by primary and secondary EU law. The ‘types of actions’ are varied (e.g. studies, educational materials, monitoring of EU law implementation, support for the main actors). There is positive reference to the aim of promoting evidence-based policies and legislation and to the need for funded actions to present a ‘European added value’. The latter element is especially of interest, as compared with their predecessors the new Programmes refer to it as a full-blown guiding principle.
Rights and Citizenship Programme
This Programme brings together purposes and actions which are at the moment covered by three Programmes (Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Daphne III and the Sections ‘Antidiscrimination and Diversity’ and ‘Gender Equality’ of the Progress Programme). The general objective is that of contributing to the creation of an area, where the rights of persons, as enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights are promoted and protected. It is significant that the first specific objective is that of enhancing the exercise of rights deriving from EU citizenship (e.g. the right to move and reside freely in the Union, to vote for and stand as a candidate in European and municipal elections). The second specific objective (effective implementation of the principle of non-discrimination, also with reference to equality between men and women and to the rights of disabled people and of the elderly) calls for its underpinning with a balanced interpretation of the principle of non-discrimination. A special focus and emphasis on the grounds of disability is in any case necessary. Concerning the specific objective of a high level of protection of personal data, of particular note is the support to be provided to Member States in implementing the relevant EU legislation. As for the further, laudable ‘specific objective’ of enhancing respect for the rights of the child, it cannot be divorced from consideration for the irreplaceable role parents have as guardians of the best interest of their children. The last specific objective of empowerment of consumers and businesses should also be welcomed.
The Justice Programme incorporates elements from various current Programmes (Civil Justice, Criminal Justice and Drug Prevention and Information Programmes). In this case the general objective is that of contributing to the creation of a ‘European area of justice’ through the promotion of judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters. The specific objectives refer to the promotion of an effective, comprehensive and consistent application of EU legislation in the areas at issue; facilitation of access to justice; prevention and reduction of drug demand and supply. As for the theme of drugs, it will be necessary to move towards a more comprehensive approach, as the social and health implications linked with the use of and dependence on drugs cannot be underestimated.
An impact to be calibrated
The simplification proposed by the Commission is a positive element, even though the level of detail is clearly reduced, as compared with the current Programmes. The specificities allowed by the previous approach also presented advantages (see the good example of the Daphne III Programme).
The potential of the two new Programmes is huge. However, this potential should be channeled towards initiatives that can genuinely contribute to the common good and the well-being of our societies in their entirety and not to the benefit of specific interests or explicit ideological agendas. The type of entities to be targeted should also ensure the necessary level of credibility, representation and quality.
The chance for the new Programmes of leaving a memorable trace in Europe hinges on the appropriate tackling of the above-described challenges during the upcoming legislative procedure.