Brussels, 21 March 2001
Speech by Mrs Nicole FONTAINE, President of the European Parliament at the hearing on fundamental rights and the area of freedom, security and justice
Presidents of the Parliamentary Assemblies of the EU Member States and the applicant countries,
Representatives of non-governmental organisations,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you know, the purpose of this hearing is to prepare the annual debate in the European Parliament, as provided for by the Treaty of Amsterdam, on the human rights situation and the establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice in the European Union.
As in previous years, we felt it was essential that the national parliaments should be closely involved in the debate and that a wide range of organisations representing civil society should be invited to contribute.
It is important, after all, that this periodic exchange of ideas and information, in particular between the national parliaments and the European Parliament, should develop from year and year and that it should provide one of the main fora at which national and Community legislators can discuss their cooperation.
The development of the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice, as provided for by Article 2 of the Treaty, would not be feasible without this vital, frank and always constructive dialogue among parliamentarians elected by universal suffrage in the Union.
If it is not to degenerate into empty rhetoric this dialogue must focus on the politically vital issues and on the problems which hold the key to the successful establishment of the area of freedom, security and justice.
As has already been said, 'there can be no area of freedom without rights, just as there can be no rights without judges'.
Establishing a European legal area which transcends national borders, laying down a joint catalogue of fundamental rights and creating, at European level, conditions which ensure that these rights are respected in every Member State: these are three inseparable aspects of a single strategy, and that strategy would founder if any one of the three were to be disregarded or treated as unimportant.
The Treaty of Amsterdam makes explicitly clear the close link between the concept of an area of freedom, security and justice and the fundamental rights recognised by the Union.
The statement, in Article 6, that the Union is founded on the principles of 'democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States', and the objective set for the Union in Article 2, that of developing itself 'as an area of freedom, security and justice', throw a fresh light on the process of European integration.
These two articles of the Treaty on European Union, Articles 2 and 6, are not simply complementary.
They have brought about a fundamental change in the balance of the Treaties, shifting the focus of the European integration process on to the individual and the citizen. The latter were left very much in the background in the original texts establishing the European Community, texts whose provisions remained for many years more economic than political in substance.
Despite the significant progress achieved, practical form has not yet been given to all the aspects of the complementary relationship enshrined in the Treaty of Amsterdam.
Admittedly, a number of Treaty articles offer a legal basis for the adoption of European laws.
This is the case in the sphere of
- discrimination (Article 13 of the EC Treaty),
- the right of access to documents of the institutions (Article 255 of the EC Treaty), and
- the protection of privacy (Article 286 of the EC Treaty),
all provisions which would be meaningless without the central political objective of establishing an area of freedom, security and justice for European citizens and for any person subject to the provisions of European law.
In addition, the extremely comprehensive and positive case law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, the recent signing of the Brussels II Convention and the closer cooperation which has resulted from the Schengen Agreements, agreements now incorporated into the Treaty, have produced significant, encouraging steps forward.
The latest highly significant event took place in December 2000, when the Charter of Fundamental Rights was proclaimed at the Nice Summit.
Prior to that, the provisions designed to guarantee respect for fundamental rights throughout the Union were both vague and inadequate.
- On the one hand, fundamental rights were singled out as principles underlying the Union, but they were defined only indirectly, by reference to the Council of Europe Convention and the 'constitutional traditions common to the Member States'.
- On the other, the area of freedom, security and justice was itself only defined indirectly, since it referred explicitly only to the policies set out in Title IV of the Community Treaty (visas, asylum, immigration and other policies linked to the free movement of persons) and the policies relating to judicial and police cooperation in criminal matters.
This gave rise to complex legal tangles, involving the tragic fate of certain children following the break-up of families with parents from different countries, or extradition problems, which, as a result of the incompatibility between national laws, led to the moral imperatives of natural justice, imperatives which the public regards as fundamental to a genuine Union of our States, being flouted.
The principles of freedom of movement, the right of residence, the right to employment and freedom of establishment throughout the Union cannot remain compatible indefinitely with a compartmentalised system of national laws.
The proclamation of the Charter remedied this shortcoming, at least in part, by highlighting the fundamental rights granted to all Europeans in the Union, regardless of their nationality.
Admittedly, in Nice the Heads of State and Government failed to take this process to its logical conclusion, which would have entailed endowing the Charter with genuine legal force, i.e. binding force, accompanied by appropriate means of obtaining redress.
However, an unstoppable dynamic has been set in train.
- Firstly, the European Parliament and the Commission have already undertaken to cite the Charter as a point of reference in all the acts they are required to adopt.
- Secondly, and this is a vital point, the Court of Justice of the European Communities has not hesitated to take the Charter into account, as we have seen, in the first few months of this year, in the conclusions of two of its Advocates-General.
- Finally, the new reform process, which, as laid down at the Nice Summit, is scheduled for completion in 2004, will very probably lead to the drafting of a genuine constitution for a united Europe, and even now many voices are calling for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of European Citizens to be made its formal preamble.
That future constitution, which is now generally accepted as a realistic objective, having long been simply a Utopian idea, should serve to replace the piecemeal provisions of the Treaties with a coherent strategy for a joint area of freedom, security and justice.
In particular, however, it would mark the establishment of a genuine Community of law, a European public policy which would draw its legitimacy from the concept of European citizens, and not simply from that of 'Member State nationals' which dominated the first few decades of the European integration process.
In conclusion, and with the intention not of closing, but rather of opening up the debate, I should like to mention some of the measures which are required if further progress is to be made:
- The Treaties must be made more readable and more coherent by doing away with the jungle of Community provisions which are too often used as an excuse for a lack of political will or the perpetuation of the status quo.
- The Charter of Fundamental Rights must be taken into account from the start of the process of drafting new legislative measures, regardless of whether they fall within the scope of Community law or the second or third pillars.
The measures taken in recent days by the Commission and by the European Parliament in respect of its Rules of Procedure demonstrate our shared determination to act with that aim in view.
By the same token, the Charter will be Parliament's point of reference for its annual reports on respect for fundamental rights in the Union.
- In that connection, it is important that Parliament should be able to draw on more effective contributions from the national parliaments, representatives of civil society and lawyers who are monitoring closely the development of fundamental rights in the Member States and applicant countries.
A proposal for a corresponding change to our Rules of Procedure is currently under consideration.
- It is also important that the Commission, without waiting for the implementation of the Treaty of Nice, should reorganise its departments so that it is in a position to prevent serious violations of fundamental rights in the Member States, in particular by allocating responsibility for this area to one of the members of the College.
- As regards the area of freedom, security and justice, it is essential that, prior to the Laeken mid-term review of progress towards the achievement of the Tampere priorities, practical solutions should have been found to the unresolved issues, such as Community policy on immigration and the implementation of the principle of the mutual recognition of judicial decisions in civil and criminal matters, measures which the public is impatient to see.
- With the same aim in view, it is essential that EUROJUST should make a start with its work and that the uncertainties surrounding EUROPOL should be clarified.
These are only a few examples of future measures, but they serve to demonstrate our determination to move on from promises and declarations, however formal they may be, to the decisions and acts which all the citizens of a united Europe are looking to us to implement.