Justice and fundamental rights in 2015: the Commission’s perspective
Is the new, bold Commission assembled by President Juncker tuned-in to current challenges? The easiest way to discover it is by going through the first of its annual Work Programmes…
Words like ‘justice’, ‘freedom’, ‘human rights’ are more than ever on everybody’s lips after the recent terrorist attacks in France. Not surprisingly, they are also a feature – although not the only one – of the new Commission’s Work Programme 2015. A few initiatives can be briefly highlighted.
The EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights
The Commission announces legislative proposals to complete EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. With the accession the Union would become a signatory party of the Convention, respect for which (also with regard to the EU’s ‘acts, measures or omissions’), would be ensured by the Strasbourg Court. The EU and the Council of Europe negotiated a draft agreement to this end and the announced action would aim to allow for signature, conclusion and implementation of the accession agreement “…in the light of the pending guidance from the Court”. This last reference is, with hindsight, unfortunate. Just two days after the publication of the Work Programme, the European Court of Justice rejected the draft agreement. The EU and the Council of Europe will have to take the accession to the Convention back to the drawing board and it remains now unclear when the Commission will be able to deliver on the matter.
Security concerns and how they fit in the Commission plans
The section of the Work Programme devoted to ‘An Area of Justice and Fundamental Rights Based on Mutual Trust’ refers to a forthcoming Communication on a European Agenda on Security (2015-2020). After the tragic events of 7 January last, the item acquires even greater urgency. It will be one of the first hard tests for the new Commission. The need to ensure full respect for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU will have to be fully taken into account. The status and the limits of certain fundamental rights and freedoms also call for a less simplistic approach than the one that emerged during the recent discussions.
Digital environment: not just about data protection
The Commission promises a ‘Digital Single Market Package’. It will include the modernisation of copyright EU provisions. The topic proved quite controversial, both during the last phase of the Barroso-II Commission and the new Commissioners’ parliamentary hearings and will be the subject of a high-octane debate. At stake is the correct balance between users’ and authors’ rights in the digital environment. The evaluation of the more general impact on ‘digital’ rights and freedoms will have to be strict.
Data protection also seems to be ‘here to stay’, as in-depth evaluations are planned for both the E-Privacy Directive (electronic communications and personal data/protection of privacy) and the Telecoms Package 2009. An evaluation is also scheduled for the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (involving interesting angles such as child protection, religious programming, and again digital rights and freedoms).
Civil law: some adjustments
Among the ‘Withdrawals or modifications of pending proposals’ planned, two items come as a surprise: the ‘flagship’ proposals concerning respectively a Common European Sales Law and a Statute for a European Foundation. The Commission intends to table a modified proposal for the first (very ambitious) initiative, whereas the second one is to be withdrawn. Between the lines, a welcome message of greater realism: toning down excessive ambitions should not to be seen as a sign of weakness.
Hard work ahead
As with other fields of the Work Programme, the Commission – and its ‘captain’ Mr. Juncker in primis – will now have to deliver on the promises made. The conscious effort to keep the Work Programme ‘lean’ was wise in this regard. Disgruntled commentators should remember that this is just an annual Work Programme: silence on certain, even essential, dossiers (including in the area of justice/fundamental rights), does not equal lack of commitment. For these reasons, the document should not be made ‘bigger’ than it actually is. What will truly deserve attentive scrutiny and debates is the quality of the concrete initiatives that will come from the Commission in 2015 (and beyond!).
‘On the run’ adjustments are always possible and quite a chunk of the Commission’s energy and time will be taken up by already active dossiers. In the area at issue, two examples stand out: the draft directive on the fight against discrimination outside employment, stuck in the Council almost since time immemorial, but behind which President Juncker has made clear he wants to throw his weight; and the data protection reform, on which nail-biting negotiations should start in 2015.
All considered, wishing the European Commission ‘good luck’ is the least one can do…