Justice and Home Affairs: Brussels wants European evidence collection system

By Nathalie Vandystadt

Belgium is ready to push forward several justice and home affairs issues in the second half of 2010. It will be moving ahead with at least one criminal law initiative, as the Council of Ministers is allowed to do under the Lisbon Treaty. This will be a draft ‘European order’ directive designed to make it easier for a member state to obtain evidence gathered elsewhere in the EU as part of a criminal investigation.

[europolitics.info] There are two big anti-terrorism dossiers: the draft agreement on US access to European interbanking data managed by SWIFT, which is based in Belgium, and two agreements on passenger data sent by airline companies to the US and to Australia. In both cases, the Presidency will need to win over the European Parliament, which has a new right of veto on international treaties and is sticking to its guns on protecting European citizens’ privacy.

On SWIFT, after the pre-agreement put together between the European Commission and the US Treasury Department, the vote may take place in July (see Europolitics3996). On ‘passenger name record’ (PNR), MEPs have postponed their vote on the EU-US and EU-Australia agreements so that there would be time for them to receive proposals from the Commission “by mid July” that might protect data in any agreement of this kind. The Commission is likely to take its time and only present an assessment report on existing agreements (with Canada, Australia and the US) as well as a proposal for a mandate to renegotiate them in September.

The PNR agreement with the US, reached in 2007 by the EU’s Council of Ministers and valid until 2014, has been strongly criticised by the Parliament, EU data protection experts and civil liberties campaigners. One of the main reasons for the criticism is the length of time that the data of passengers travelling to the US can be stored for – 15 years (3996). The idea is also to create a European PNR. But Belgium does not expect to have Commission proposals before the end of the year so the issue will be passed on to the forthcoming Hungarian Presidency. As for talks with the US on a global agreement for protecting private data, the Council needs to adopt the Commission’s mandate by the end of the year, with the aim of an agreement with the US set for sometime in 2012.

Several other subjects are on the table: countering trafficking in human beings (with the creation of European measures, such as joint investigation teams); internal security; managing legal immigration based on the needs of labour markets by taking into account the demographic ageing of Europe; and the Common Asylum Policy. The ‘asylum package’, which is meant to generate more solidarity in the EU, is still blocked in the Council. In May, the Commission proposed giving priority to the protection of children who arrive on European shores. This will also be a top issue for Belgium (3973 and 3974).

In terms of justice, Brussels will also have to sort out a draft EU protection order for victims of domestic violence, which Spain had pushed during its Presidency. Finally, Belgium will take advantage of the Council’s right to make criminal law proposals. It has submitted a draft directive with seven other countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Spain, Luxembourg, Austria, Slovenia and Sweden. The aim is to allow one member state to gather evidence in another via a single mechanism that would replace two ‘pre-Lisbon Treaty’ decisions, which were regarded as inefficient. Here, Belgium will be responding to a demand from EU heads of state and government who, as part of the Stockholm programme on justice and home affairs (adopted in December 2009), have called for a mutual recognition system “to replace all the existing instruments in this area, including the Framework Decision on the European Evidence Warrant [of 2008], covering as far as possible all types of evidence and containing deadlines for enforcement and limiting as far as possible the grounds for refusal”.

Source: http://www.europolitics.info/sectorial-policies/brussels-wants-european-evidence-collection-system-art276431-16.html