Speech by J. Bernatonis, Minister of Justice, at the LIBE committee

10 January 2014, Last updated at, 15:42 EET
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author: Council © European Union

Thank you, Mr Chairman,
Honourable Members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first thank you for the opportunity to present the results of the Lithuanian Presidency in the area of justice. Even though this has been the first Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the achieved results and performed work have been gratifying. All members of the Presidency team made tremendous contributions to ensure that the aims of the Lithuanian presidency presented to you in July would be achieved. It goes without saying that achieving these great results would have been impossible without the help of European Union institutions. Therefore, let me express my gratitude to the European Parliament and its members, and especially to the Chairman of the Committee Mr Aguilar for the immense cooperation and assistance during this Presidency.

I believe that throughout the Presidency we were able to ensure a smooth and continuous legislative procedure, while remaining honest and impartial mediators that involved all the related parties in this process. We hope that you are not disappointed in the results of the Presidency, and today I would like to present these results in short.
During the Presidency the major focus was on three main goals – the creation of a Credible, Growing and Open Europe.
During the Presidency, in the area of justice, we devoted the most attention to measures that would return trust in the European Union, stimulate growth of the economy and employment, strengthen the common market, ensure financial stability, reinforce economic and monetary union, and ensure protection of financial interests of the European Union. We also approved three conclusions of the Council in the area of fundamental rights. Much attention was devoted to strengthening relations of the European Union with the third parties, especially with Eastern Partnership countries.

One of the horizontal aims was creation of a credible Europe with stable finances and effective EU economy management. We have been working to strengthen the citizens’ trust in the areas of freedom, safety and justice. Progress in the area of justice contributed to the creation of a credible Europe. The topic we worked most intensively on in the past six months was consolidation of protection of the EU financial interests by criminal law. Here we dealt with both available and completely new initiatives.

The proposal effectively contributing to the creation of a credible Europe is the Directive on the protection of the euro and other currencies against counterfeiting by criminal law. We strongly believe that this instrument is important in ensuring stability of the euro and other currencies, as well as proper protection against counterfeiting. This initiative is relevant to the Presidency from the national point of view. We are happy that we were able to complete negotiations on this initiative by reaching a general approach in the Council in October. We believe that negotiations with the European Parliament on this proposal will be constructive and successful, and that we will be able to reach agreement at the first reading.

Yet another particularly important priority of the Presidency, to which the Presidency devoted special attention, is the Directive on confiscation and freezing of criminal assets. We are happy that during the Presidency we were able to reach an agreement with the Parliament on this proposal. I believe that approval of this proposal is a tremendous step made towards ensuring that crime is not profitable. Even though the negotiations were not easy due to a large gap between the positions of the institutions, we are satisfied that we were able to reach a common compromise and agree on the text of the legal act. We would like to thank the rapporteur of the LIBE Committee, Monica Luisa Macovei, for her contribution in the search for mutual solutions on this draft legislative act.

I would also like to express satisfaction that after nearly two years of negotiations with the European Parliament, agreement on the European Investigation Order in criminal matters was finally reached. I believe that in this legal instrument by means of common efforts we were able to find the balance between investigation concern and protection of human rights. Together we have created a unified evidence gathering system based on the mutual recognition principle, which should simplify and accelerate cooperation so extremely necessary for a successful criminal investigation. We would like to thank the rapporteur of the LIBE Committee, Nuno Melo, for constructive and benevolent cooperation in search for a common agreement on the text of this legal act. We hope that the Directive will be adopted in the beginning of the coming year.

During the Lithuanian Presidency, we also started trialogues for a proposal on a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on criminal sanctions for insider dealing and market manipulation. During the Presidency, intensive negotiations with the European Parliament took place. Work within the Council on a draft legislative act is being continued. We would like to express satisfaction in the major progress achieved by the negotiations during the Presidency, and to thank the ECON and LIBE Committee members for their efforts and constructivism in the search for common solutions for the draft legislative act. We hope that at the end of the Lithuanian Presidency we will come to a common agreement on the main elements of the draft legislative act.

During the Presidency we devoted much attention to the proposals of the Commission for creation of the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) and setting up the European Public Prosecutor's Office presented just this summer.

The proposals were discussed in October during the Council of the Ministers of Justice, where the majority of the ministers supported the idea of setting up the European Public Prosecutor's Office; however, they emphasised that certain aspects of the proposal must be discussed further.

I believe that within this short period of time since presentation of the proposal, we have moved forward on the majority of issues discussed at the expert level, such as structure and competences of the future Public Prosecutor's Office. Even though it is too early to state that the future legal system is soon to be completed, I still believe that the overall image of some features of the future European Public Prosecutor's Office is gradually coming to life.

Let me remind you that on September 16-17 together with the European Commission and the Academy of European Law, we organised a successful conference devoted to informal examination of the proposal. I believe that in future discussions concerning setting up of the European Public Prosecutor's Office, it will be necessary to take into consideration the opinions expressed by the national parliaments. This was also emphasised by the majority of ministers of justice during the Council in December. I consider the fact that the Commission also supports this position, which it expressed in the communique of November 27, to be a positive sign.

With regards to the fact that the European Public Prosecutor's Office is created on the basis of Eurojust, we simultaneously analysed the proposal on the Eurojust. In the presence of a growing rate of cross-border crime it is important to ensure the most efficient operation of Eurojust. Discussions in working groups on this issue were started in September analysing the first three chapters of the regulations.
We hope that the performed work will contribute to further negotiations on these proposals.

Regarding the fact that the Stockholm Programme devotes special attention to the interests and needs of citizens of the European Union, and to the fact that 2013 is the European Year of Citizens, throughout the Presidency, much attention was devoted to the protection of human rights, ensuring gender equality and equal opportunities, and diminishing discrimination.
In this context I would like to express satisfaction with the reached final agreement on the new financial programmes aiding implementation of these goals – the Justice Programme and the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme. We are happy that on November 5 the legislative institutions, the Council and the European Parliament, reached agreement on these two proposals. Extensive contributions were made through close cooperation of both legislative institutions, ensuring that the proposals will be adopted before the end of the year. We are happy that on December 10 the proposals were approved during the plenary meeting of the EP, and yesterday [December 16] they were officially adopted in the Council. I would like to thank the EP members, rapporteur Kinga Göncz, and rapporteurs Luigi Berlinguer and Philip Claeys for constructive cooperation in achieving this result.

In commemoration of the end of the European Year of Citizenship, the Council conclusions on the EU Citizenship Report 2013 were approved. The conclusions emphasise the necessity to inform the EU citizens of their rights and ensure that they are able to apply them in everyday life without facing unnecessary obstacles. These conclusions focus on the goals of elimination of obstacles for free movement of workers, students and trainees within the EU, to protect vulnerable groups of EU citizens, ensure accessibility of information and the opportunity for citizens to participate actively in the democratic processes while reducing bureaucratic procedures.

Moreover, seeking to attract attention to the European citizenship and the Year of Citizens, the closing event of the European Year of Citizens was organised in Vilnius. The conference “How to make every year a year for citizens!” took place at the Lithuanian Parliament on December 12-13. This event was used to summarise the performed work and the achieved goals related to the rights of the citizens of the European Union, and to provide future guidelines in this area. Upon initiative of Lithuania, representatives of the non-governmental sector of the Eastern Partnership were invited to the event as observers. This granted them an opportunity to observe the real situation of the EU citizens and discussions among them, and to evaluate the perspectives of EU membership through this prism.

We continued the work on the European Union accession to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. During the period of Lithuanian Presidency, the Commission submitted a request to the Court of Justice of the European Union for its opinion on to the draft agreement of the EU accession to the European Convention for Human Rights.

Being encouraged by the majority of the member states, the Presidency sent a letter to the Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, in which the Commission is asked to provide a consolidated version of the draft internal regulations. The Commission replied that it will provide an official proposal only when the Court provides its opinion. Despite this, the Council continued its work related to several separate elements of internal regulations.

In December, the Council issued two Council conclusions related to fundamental rights. The first conclusions were directed at evaluation of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. The Presidency used these conclusions to contribute to the Commission’s consideration process before presenting proposals on amendments of the Regulation establishing the Agency for Fundamental Rights. Generally, the work of the Agency was evaluated positively in the conclusions providing recommendations on how to optimise agency operations and communication with the EU institutions and the member states.

The final Council conclusions prepared upon the initiative of the Presidency, agreed upon in December, are devoted to fighting hate crimes in the EU. These conclusions are aimed to increase awareness of hate crimes, encourage development of specific proposals for fighting hate crime manifestations in the EU and the member states, and to improve the position of hate crime victims. The Conference, which the Presidency together with the Agency of Fundamental Rights organised on November 12-13, laid down the foundation for these Council conclusions. The preamble of the Council conclusions includes a reference to the historic European memory and condemnation of all genocide crimes, crimes against humanity and war crimes including crimes committed by totalitarian regimes.

Moving on to the next goal of the Presidency, the creation of a growing Europe, let me emphasise that special attention was devoted to legislative measures that could contribute to the stimulations of economic growth.

The Data Protection Reform Package is an important and complex initiative, the aim of which is balance between ensuring human rights and promoting economic growth while responding to globalisation and development of information technologies. The Data Protection Reform Package was one of the central priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency.

Continuing the work of our Irish colleagues, we worked intensively both at the expert and political levels in examination of this issue. The Data Protection Reform Package was analysed by an expert group for the duration of more than 20 days, was included in all agendas of the Councils of Justice and Home Affairs and was discussed at the informal Meeting of the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs in July in Vilnius.

In December, the Council discussed one of the most important elements of the Commission proposal for a General Data Protection Regulation, which is the ‘one-stop-shop’ concept. Throughout the Presidency, we did our best to compromise between the member states on the Commission’s proposal for this issue and to present the best half-way solution.
I would like to emphasise that every effort was made, especially after the October meeting of the Council of Ministers, to seek an agreement on the one-stop-shop model, as it is one of the main unsolved issues in the proposal at the Council level. Even though especially intensive work was carried out in relation to this issue throughout the Presidency, the ministers were unable to adopt final decisions on the essential elements of the proposed mechanism. Crucial legal issues were raised, especially the fact that seeking to ensure a one-stop-shop for business would disproportionately aggravate the position of our citizens, where protections of their fundamental rights would be compromised. For this reason, the ministers do not want to make any hasty decisions. We all agree that this data protection reform is necessary, however due to the significance of this reform, it is essential to ensure the creation of high quality regulation, which would be valid for a long time, would have added value to the internal market and would strengthen the competitive capacity of European Union companies. We should sacrifice protection of rights of our citizens. I believe that this question will continue to be a priority issue on the agenda of our Trio partner the Greek Presidency, and that they will be able to reach a conclusion of this dossier as soon as possible, to which, without any doubt, the fact that the European Parliament already has the mandate to start dialogue with the Council will definitely be a valuable contribution.

Last, but definitely not least, the priority of the Presidency was creation of an open Europe. It is very important to show that despite current challenges, Europe remains open. During the past six months we have been strengthening and developing cooperation with the countries of Eastern Partnership.
In October, the First Meeting of Ministers responsible for Justice and Home Affairs of the EU Member States was organised for the implementation of this priority. During the meeting, representatives of participating member states adopted a joint declaration that provided specific steps towards closer cooperation in the area of justice and home affairs between the European Union and its partners.
This first meeting was very important and beneficial both to the EU member states and the Eastern Partnership countries looking for deeper relations with the EU. We hope that meetings of this kind will become a regular practice of close communication and cooperation.

When in July I was presenting the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, I drew attention to the fact that the Presidency might have to work on the issues not included into the agenda of the Presidency, but which would become relevant. I am talking about disclosed information on the intelligence collection programmes of the US National Security Agency, which justly raises a number of complex and serious questions, especially due to their effect on the rights of EU citizens.
We definitely value the fact that the European Parliament is concerned about EU citizens’ privacy and announced an initiative providing more clarity on the alleged electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens. The Council also joined the dialogue with the US including creation of the ad hoc EU-US Working Group on Data Protection. It is important to note that we see positive signs by the US concerning EU concerns, especially as it comes to unequal treatment of US and EU citizens.
Let me emphasise that in response to multiple US requests to present proposals contributing to the discussions held in the USA on the US surveillance policy reform, the document “The EU and Contribution of Member States in the Context of Review of the US Surveillance Programmes” was approved during the Council meeting in December, and presented to the US. It is important to continue this dialogue and then adequately evaluate the measures, which could be applied.

As the Presidency, we also assessed that the Stockholm Programme defining strategic guidelines for the areas of freedom, security and justice will end in 2014. Therefore, during the Informal Meeting of the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs, which took place in July in Vilnius, we initiated political discussions on the outlook for justice and home affairs. Member states were also asked to present their proposals on the guidelines and main principles in the area of justice and home affairs. During the Lithuanian Presidency these discussions continued at the expert level, while Ministers exchanged opinions during the meeting of the Council in December. During the Presidency, we prepared a summary of the preliminary proposals of Member States, and will present the work done and summary to Greece, the partner of the Presidency Trio, which will continue the aforementioned discussions. We hope that discussions in both the Council and the European Parliament will be a useful contribution to determining future strategic guidelines for developments in the area of freedom, security and justice.

I would like to shortly present the results of the initiatives contributing to the economic growth of Europe: the Council approved a general approach on the European Account Preservation Order, during the Presidency we continued intensive negotiations at the expert level on the proposal for a Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings and the Council succeeded in defining guidelines for further discussions in December; the Council approved a common standpoint on modifications of the ‘Brussels I’ Regulation and the Presidency continued intensive and elaborate discussions on the Common European Sales Law instrument seeking the utmost progress.

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
These are the main results in the area of justice of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. However, aside from the aforementioned priorities, we were also working on other dossiers and made maximum effort to ensure a successful Presidency and tangible results. The past six months have been another phase and a memorable step in our common history, consolidating the relations, cooperation and unity of Member States and institutions. On behalf of the Presidency team, I would like once again to thank you all for your cooperation and assistance over the past months. I hope that at the end of the Presidency our cooperation and striving towards common goals will not end, but that the meaningful work will be continued by the partner of the Presidency Trio, Greece.

Thank you and I await your questions.

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