EU plans judicial exchange programmes

By Stanley Pignal in Brussels

and judges across the European Union will be encouraged to go on
exchange programmes reminiscent of university exchanges in order to
deepen integration in justice and home affairs, under proposals agreed
on Tuesday in Brussels.

[] EU justice ministers agreed a new
framework for co-operation in home affairs as the entry into force of
the Lisbon treaty promised to transfer more powers to Brussels in many
fields that were once the exclusive purview of national capitals.

five-year “Stockholm programme” is a continuation of previous
agreements that guided the EU’s first steps in the field of justice and
home affairs, including such contentious topics as developing a common
EU asylum policy and deepening co-operation between police forces.

by Sweden, which holds the rotating EU presidency, the framework aims
to strengthen the rights of suspects arrested outside their own
countries, for example by establishing the right to a free translator.

agreement was largely overshadowed by the entry into force of the
Lisbon treaty, which gives the EU a far bigger say in judicial and home
affairs matters than in the past.

Previous EU treaties made clear
that most topics relating to home affairs were the exclusive purview of
member states. Any proposals for co-operation had to be approved by
every country, limiting agreements.

Most aspects of home affairs
will now work in the same way as other parts of the EU machinery,
meaning countries will lose their right to veto proposals that have
been proposed by the European Commission and agreed by the European
parliament and most member states.

The role of the parliament is
itself a novelty: it has until now been completely bypassed in all
judicial and home affairs decisions.

Exactly how the new arrangement will work remains unclear to many diplomats in Brussels.

European parliament is the big unknown,” said one. “If they behave
irresponsibly on things like national policing, they simply won’t be
listened to by the member states, no matter what Lisbon says.”

new element is the creation of a new commissioner for justice and
fundamental rights, a portfolio awarded to Viviane Reding of Luxembourg
last Friday.

Ms Reding was one of the highest-profile members of
the previous Commission after her persistent campaign against mobile
roaming fees, and diplomats in Brussels are wondering if she will find
a similar issue in the fundamental rights brief.

Her sprawling
beat includes data protection, a topic that is specifically mentioned
in the Stockholm programme and that some see as ripe for a pan-European

The UK and Ireland remain on the fringes of any
judicial co-operation, having secured a case-by-case opt-out on any
EU-wide measures because of the gulf between the Anglo-Saxon and
continental legal systems.

The Lisbon treaty also allows the EU
to become a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, a
move that could come as early as next year, and would give the
Strasbourg court that rules on convention breaches added powers to
scrutinise Brussels.