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O-000286/2011 (B7-0664/2011)

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Debates
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. Detention conditions in the EU (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the debate on

- the oral question to the Council on detention conditions in the EU by Niccolò Rinaldi, Renate Weber, Gianni Vattimo, Jens Rohde, Nathalie Griesbeck, Sophia in ’t Veld, Sarah Ludford, Louis Michel, Andrea Zanoni, Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, Giommaria Uggias, Cecilia Wikström and Marielle De Sarnez, on behalf of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (O-000252/2011 - B7-0658/2011),

- the oral question to the Commission on detention conditions in the EU by Niccolò Rinaldi, Renate Weber, Gianni Vattimo, Jens Rohde, Nathalie Griesbeck, Sophia in ’t Veld, Sarah Ludford, Louis Michel, Andrea Zanoni, Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, Giommaria Uggias, Cecilia Wikström and Marielle De Sarnez, on behalf of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (O-000253/2011 - B7-0659/2011),

- the oral question to the Council on detention conditions in the EU by Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, Cornelis de Jong and Miguel Portas, on behalf of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (O-000265/2011 - B7-0660/2011),

- the oral question to the Commission on detention conditions in the EU by Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, Cornelis de Jong and Miguel Portas, on behalf of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (O-000266/2011 - B7-0661/2011),

- the oral question to the Council on detention conditions in the EU by Salvatore Iacolino, Simon Busuttil, Carlos Coelho and Elena Oana Antonescu, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (O-000283/2011 - B7-0662/2011),

- the oral question to the Commission on detention conditions in the EU by Salvatore Iacolino, Simon Busuttil, Carlos Coelho and Elena Oana Antonescu, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (O-000284/2011 - B7-0663/2011),

- the oral question to the Council on detention conditions in the EU by Judith Sargentini, Jan Philipp Albrecht, Rui Tavares, Tatjana Ždanoka and Raül Romeva i Rueda, on behalf of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance (O-000286/2011 - B7-0664/2011),

- the oral question to the Commission on detention conditions in the EU by Judith Sargentini, Jan Philipp Albrecht, Rui Tavares, Tatjana Ždanoka and Raül Romeva i Rueda, on behalf of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance (O-000287/2011 - B7-0665/2011),

- the oral question to the Council on detention conditions in the EU by Birgit Sippel, Claude Moraes, Carmen Romero López, Sylvie Guillaume, Tanja Fajon, Roberto Gualtieri and Rita Borsellino, on behalf of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (O-000296/2011 - B7-0666/2011), and

- the oral question to the Commission on detention conditions in the EU by Birgit Sippel, Claude Moraes, Carmen Romero López, Sylvie Guillaume, Tanja Fajon, Roberto Gualtieri and Rita Borsellino, on behalf of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (O-000297/2011 - B7-0667/2011).

 
  
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  Niccolò Rinaldi, author. (IT) Mr President, I am honoured to have been the promoter of this plenary debate. I believe that European prisons suffer from at least two problems.

The first is that it is quite difficult to have the instruments of European democracy enter these institutions. In prisons, there are human rights abuses and people’s dignity is mortified, as concerns both detainees and those who work in the prisons, such as the warders.

Prisons are overcrowded, a sign of lack of investment: people are crowded in together and the door is shut. There is little knowledge of prison regulations, while copies of them should be distributed and clearly understood by all.

There is abdication of the principal role of re-education that prisons should play, not least because employment for detainees is no longer facilitated inside prisons.

There is little transparency and hardly any opening to citizens, schools and non-governmental organisations.

Budget cuts threaten essential services and the training of personnel and there is an overall lack of interest by the media and politicians.

I now go on to the second point. Personally, as part of the initiative that Marco Pannella launched in Italy, for the past three years, I have visited two prisons on 15 August – the day that is most symbolic of holidays – and I have been struck by the absence of the European dimension within them. There are no exchanges of good practices, and few are the moments of contact between the staff and operators from the various European countries.

I therefore applaud the publication of this Green Paper, which may cast light on a series of issues: how to improve mutual trust and, naturally, detention conditions; how to associate detention conditions with European regulations on preventive detention, the European arrest warrant, the conditions of minors, the power to inspect, the right to visits by families and all the activities of cultural mediators, which are necessary.

The Council is present today and many answers depend on it. We are dealing with a test of civilisation, that is, of European identity.

Prisons will always be prisons. I do not believe that the solution lies in emptying them, but they must cease to be those dark corners of rights and European responsibilities.

 
  
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  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, author. (EL) Mr President, the subject of this debate is very important, especially at a time when various initiatives are under way in the judicial cooperation sector in the European Union, in which the concept of mutual trust is applied at every opportunity for EU actions.

The European Commission’s Green Paper published recently is fairly indicative of the fact that there is a huge gap between what is being said and the reality of the situation. It sets out numerous problems which we cannot ignore: the worrying differences in detention conditions in the Member States, especially in terms of the number of pre-trial detainees, occupancy levels, abuse of the measure of pre-trial detention and the practical application of the European arrest warrant.

I should like to refer, in particular, to the measure of pre-trial detention. This is, in principle, an exceptional measure which should be applied as a last resort; nonetheless, the use of it in practice is now completely automatic and insufficient consideration is given to the alternative measures available. Furthermore, special attention needs to be paid to vulnerable categories, such as children and adolescents. As regards the European arrest warrant, its proper application cannot be at the expense of basic rights and freedoms. Guarantees are needed to ensure that the necessary means are available for defending suspects and for detention conditions.

Even if, therefore, it is easy to turn a blind eye to these issues, we need to highlight and debate them, so that we can find solutions and call for specific measures to improve poor detention conditions, which respect detainees’ human rights and meet the high standards so frequently talked about. That is the only way to achieve a minimum degree of mutual trust; otherwise, these arrangements will be dead letter and will do more harm than good.

The motion for a resolution that will be put to the vote in plenary tomorrow moves in this direction. We therefore call on the Commission and the Council to consider the above and to act on the words and the message of the European Parliament, by examining the impact of penal measures and provisions on detention conditions and making recommendations on these issues.

 
  
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  Salvatore Iacolino, author. (IT) Mr President, there is no doubt that among the indicators of the level of a society’s civilisation, the conditions of detainees are certainly present.

Overcrowding is a constant characteristic in many Member States, due in part to the significant presence of citizens of other countries: 650 000 detainees is a particularly substantial number. There is a right, just as there is a duty, for them to serve their sentences, obviously so long as the dignity and decorum of the person is guaranteed.

We are of the opinion that what is needed is homogeneity and uniformity of treatment, and we feel that cooperation and trust among Member States can exist especially when there is uniformity in the conditions of detainees. This is not the case! In the Member States, there are certain particularly complex realities that must be investigated further.

Of course, there are issues connected with those awaiting trial and preventive detention, of which many Member States do not always make prudent and judicious use. Then there is the question of jobs for those who have served their sentences, and their rehabilitation and social redemption, because these are persons who must be given a second chance.

There is the problem of harsh sentences for those who have committed serious crimes – first and foremost, those of mafia, organised crime and terrorism. In these cases, the surveillance threshold must obviously remain very high.

Mutual recognition among Member States in judicial matters may be of use. We should like to see the Commission and the Council show greater courage and identify this as a priority in the list of matters to address – why not? – with greater means and resources to enlarge and modernise prison facilities: this is specifically mentioned in the Stockholm programme.

In the meantime, the Member States must also adopt alternative measures to favour the reintegration of ex-convicts: people must always be offered dignity and decorum.

 
  
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  Judith Sargentini, author. (NL) Mr President, the fact that in Europe, there are prisons in which prisoners, suspects and offenders run the risk of illness and violence is a scandal in itself. It is outrageous that there are Member States which, like the Commission, still talk about mutual trust in the rule of law; it is merely a matter of time before one of the courts, either Luxembourg or Strasbourg, prohibits a Member State from deporting a resident on the basis of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the article dealing with torture and inhumane treatment.

The Dutchman, Robert Hörchner, spent eight months in a Polish prison on the basis of a European arrest warrant. He grew thin – if not to say emaciated – and had scabies all over his body. As it happens, he was acquitted. This Parliament does not want to see this sort of thing happening. Therefore, we are not just asking for better, cleaner, safe prisons, but also for a review of the principle of mutual trust without checks.

How can it be, in this time of debt crisis, that Member States which distrust each other in the area of finances are asking for sanctions, checks and balances and controls but which, when it comes to the deportation of a resident from one country to another, are able to trust each other well enough.

This Parliament therefore asks not only for safe prisons, but also for a maximum period of pre-detention and for judges to be able to refuse a deportation order based on a European arrest warrant and thus avoid sending a resident to another country if the detention facilities are such that Article 3 is violated. I say this, Mr President, because trust is good, but control is better.

 
  
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  Birgit Sippel , author.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, why is it even necessary, in this House, in this European Union, to discuss detention conditions? The increasing mobility of our citizens and, in particular, the increased cooperation between the police force and the judicial system, as well as joint measures such as the European arrest warrant, require confidence. This is the confidence that everywhere in the EU, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Convention on Human Rights are being observed. It is confidence in properly functioning legal systems based on the principle of the presumption of innocence, in which a punishment is a punishment, not revenge or humiliation. However, many reports in the last few years and also many judgments of the European Court of Human Rights make it clear that we are still a long way from achieving this.

The poor conditions relate to overcrowded prisons, a lack of opportunities for contact, a lack of medical care and many other issues besides. We urgently need common minimum standards for detention conditions and also for pre-trial detention. Long pre-trial detention periods, particularly if it is not in the person’s own Member State, can result in the loss of social contacts and jobs and, due to language barriers, they can entail isolation during detention. Therefore, in particular with regard to minor offences, alternatives to all forms of detention must be given greater consideration. The Commission’s Green Paper cites a number of examples in this regard. However, these need to be applied a great deal more in practice.

The conclusion, then, is that minimum standards for detention conditions, a greater use of alternatives and special forms of accommodation for pregnant women and children are essential steps for us to take. The European Parliament has already called for changes to detention conditions in the past. Now, we must finally take specific measures. That is what we are calling for most strongly today and tomorrow.

 
  
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  Maciej Szpunar, President-in-Office of the Council. – Mr President, I am grateful to this Parliament for raising this important issue and for giving me the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Council. Fundamental rights are the basis on which the EU is founded and lie at the heart of everything it does. These rights enshrined in the constitutional traditions of Member States, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights include respect for the life, health and dignity of persons subject to imprisonment.

The Council is strongly committed to taking action to strengthen mutual trust between the judicial authorities of the Member States. This is key to ensuring the effective implementation of the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions in the area of freedom, security and justice. Detention conditions are important. They are particularly relevant in the context of ensuring the correct functioning of legal instruments on mutual recognition, such as the framework decision on the European arrest warrant.

The European Council specifically addressed this issue in the Stockholm programme. It stated that efforts should be undertaken to strengthen mutual trust and render more efficient the principle of mutual recognition in the area of detention. Efforts to promote the exchange of best practices should be pursued and implementation of the European prison rules approved by the Council of Europe should be supported. Issues such as alternatives to imprisonment, pilot projects on detention and best practices in prison management could also be addressed.

The European Council invited the Commission to reflect further on these issues with the possibilities offered by the Treaty of Lisbon. The Council welcomed the adoption by the Commission on 14 July this year of a Green Paper on strengthening mutual trust in the European judicial area and the application of EU criminal justice legislation in the field of detention. It will follow closely the development of the consultation procedure launched by the Commission with this Green Paper.

However, the Council has not received any proposal to date for either legislative or non-legislative action in the field of detention conditions. Should the Commission decide that action is required and present a proposal, the Council will, of course, examine it closely, given the importance of the issue.

It goes without saying that the Union may only adopt legislation where the Treaties provide it with the powers to do so. In the area of detention, the limits of the Union’s competence are set out in the relevant provisions of Article 82 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Detention conditions are not covered by this provision. It is the responsibility of Member States to ensure that detention conditions and prison management respect fundamental rights and, in particular, that they meet agreed international standards, in particular, those of the Council of Europe.

In its Green Paper, to which I have already referred, the Commission sets out some of the activities related to the issue of detention conditions and for which it provides support through various financial programmes. The Commission also has a regular dialogue with the Council of Europe on these issues. The Council supports these activities and would welcome other forms of support to Member States in the area of detention conditions and facilities. That said, and given the absence of relevant Treaty provisions, the Council has no further power to take action in the areas mentioned by the honourable Members.

Issues such as the setting of common standards on detention conditions, tackling the abuse of pre-trial detention and overcrowding, and the rates of non-nationals detained, all fall outside the scope of action by the Union. The Council is asked about the possibility of providing statistics on the relationship between recourse to the European arrest warrant and pre-trial detentions. Since 2005, the Council has carried out an annual statistical survey among Member States on quantitative data relating to the functioning of the European arrest warrant. However, this is the only statistical data held by the Council.

 
  
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  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, detention issues mainly fall under Member States’ responsibility. There are, however, reasons for the European Union to take a closer look.

With the Green Paper on the application of EU criminal justice legislation in the field of detention, the Commission wanted to find out to what extent detention issues influence mutual trust between Member States and learn more about its impact on the application of the principle of mutual recognition and judicial cooperation within the EU.

Detention conditions can affect several mutual recognition instruments, such as the European arrest warrant (EAW), the transfer of prisoners, the mutual recognition of alternative sanctions and probation and the European Supervision Order.

The European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision requires the surrender of persons between Member States both in pre-trial and post-trial situations.

All Member States must comply with the EU Charter when applying EU law and are subject to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, there are doubts about the way in which standards are upheld across the EU. The Green Paper recalls respect for fundamental rights. In fact, judicial authorities are not obliged to surrender a person if this might breach the person’s fundamental rights because of very poor or unacceptable detention conditions.

The Council of Europe plays a key role in monitoring detention conditions. At global level, the 2006 Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture created a new system to prevent ill-treatment of detainees.

The Green Paper asked how we could better coordinate the work of these monitoring bodies to avoid duplications.

The Framework Decision on transfer of prisoners of 2008 is another example of the challenges we face when it comes to mutual recognition in the area of detention. The Framework Decision establishes a system for transferring convicted prisoners back to the Member State of nationality or habitual residence. Perceived poor detention conditions, or conditions that risk falling below the minimum standards required by the Council of Europe European prison rules, could be an impediment to the transfer of prisoners.

Following the road map for strengthening procedural safeguards, the Green Paper recognises that time spent in pre-trial detention varies widely from one Member State to another. In addition, non-nationals seem to have a disadvantage: obtaining bail is often more difficult for them as they are seen as a greater risk as they might leave the country.

We asked in the Green Paper whether mutual trust among Member States could be strengthened by creating common minimum standards on two points: first, on the right to review the decision to keep a person in pre-trial detention and, second, on time limits for pre-trial detention.

The consultation launched by the Green Paper was opened until 20 November. We will now analyse the replies to decide whether any specific action at the European level might be considered.

 
  
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  President. – If you would allow me a moment, Mr Szpunar, I would like to echo this morning’s congratulations to your government on its excellent Presidency.

As this is my last time speaking as Vice-President in this sitting, I would also like to congratulate Mr Kallas and the Commission and wish you, together with all of my colleagues, those who are here today and those who are not, the officials who help us to organise our plenary sittings, especially those who assist us in the Bureau, and the ushers and interpreters a very happy holiday. I hope that the year ahead will be even better than this one, which is drawing to a close.

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho, on behalf of the PPE Group.(PT) Mr President, I would like to join you in your season’s greetings to the Presidency of the Council, the Commission and all our colleagues, and would like to recall that we have supported enhancing judicial cooperation in criminal matters to establish a true European judicial area and promote quick and effective legal assistance, respecting the fundamental right to defence, procedural guarantees and general human rights principles.

Judicial cooperation in criminal matters must be guided by trust between Member States, founded on the principal of mutual recognition of sentences and judicial decisions. We know that Member States continue to be responsible for detention conditions and prison management, as the President-in-Office of the Council reminded us, but there cannot be mutual trust without respect for fundamental rights and without efforts to bring the rights of suspects and defendants and procedural rights in criminal proceedings into alignment.

There is still a great deal of variation in detention conditions between Member States. In some Member States, these conditions are below acceptable levels, which not only puts judicial cooperation in criminal matters at European Union level at risk, but also raises concerns about the protection of fundamental rights and the possible violation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

There are significant differences in terms of prison overcrowding, inadequate prison buildings, high numbers in pre-trial detention and the average time spent in pre-trial detention. As Vice-President Kallas has already noted, these circumstances undermine mutual trust and cause problems when it comes to executing the decision taken with regard to the European arrest warrant. There have been several refusals to surrender detainees under the European arrest warrant by different Member States.

We want to call on the European Commission to create common minimum standards. I hope that the Commission can present an initiative, taking into consideration the results of the public consultation launched by the Green Paper referred to by Commissioner Kallas. I call on the Member States, through the President-in-Office of the Council, to urgently take steps that will ensure that the fundamental rights of prisoners, in particular, the rights of vulnerable people, are respected and protected, and to support the application of common minimum detention standards across the European Union.

 
  
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  Carmen Romero López, on behalf of the S&D Group.(ES) Mr President, Mr Szpunar, Commissioner, there is one category of prisoners in border countries of the European Union whose conditions are not referred to in the Green Paper, despite their deplorable situation: asylum seekers and refugees.

They are not criminals. Perhaps not all of them meet the conditions laid down in the Geneva Convention because they are not individually persecuted, but they are fleeing wars and are filling up our detention centres in Greece, Italy, Malta and other parts of the Mediterranean. This is because of the length of time it takes to deal with their applications. They can be deprived of their freedom for up to six months because the procedures are at a standstill. Depriving them of their freedom like this must be condemned because it is a shame on us as Europeans. Reacting in this way to humanitarian disasters goes against everything our values represent. We will be aware of the figures and detention time, but what good is it to establish an early warning mechanism for humanitarian disasters if we have not resolved the situation of the refugees we have in the detention camps?

Ladies and gentlemen, we know that these policies are government policies, but we have the funds for an asylum office that still does not have any duties or a Community mandate. It is now time to ensure that it has adequate resources and to implement a Community policy on this issue, which is an embarrassment for us all.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, we are told that detention conditions are a national responsibility. It is shocking then that over one third of Member States have not ratified the Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, which establishes a system of inspection visits. We should be ashamed that the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture is having to take an interest.

Pre-trial detention is meant to be an exceptional measure, but we have Member States where the majority of the prison population is made up of people who have not been convicted of any crime. As Commissioner Kallas has said, non-nationals are given an exceptionally bad deal. My constituent, Andrew Symeou, was held in Greece for almost two years in pre-trial detention, in horrendous conditions before his case finally came to trial, and where a Greek national would almost certainly have been granted bail. He was, be it noted, acquitted.

Member States should implement the European supervision order as an alternative to pre-trial detention, but we also need common rules to cut down abuses, on which note I would draw attention to the fact that the Italian President has said that the situation of prisons in Italy is a democratic emergency. My former MEP colleague, Marco Pannella, a very brave man, is on hunger strike in protest. We have to give our support for fundamental rights, including in prison.

 
  
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  Jan Philipp Albrecht, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Szpunar, Commissioner, I am a little surprised at the blatant way that the Council and the Member States are denying responsibility here for the standards relating to detention conditions. I am of the opinion – and I believe this opinion is very widely shared here in the European Parliament – that we do indeed need to take action at European level to create common standards for these detention conditions, and I believe it is right that the European Commission has submitted a Green Paper in this regard, which also, and in particular, comments on pre-trial detention and indicates ways in which we can create such standards within the bounds of what our Treaties allow.

In my view, mutual recognition is not something that we can simply achieve by saying that we accept the fact that there are different procedures and they are simply the way they are, and we send the prisoners back and forth and we send the evidence back and forth and that is how it is. No, that will not do. There are two sides to mutual recognition. It means, on the one hand, of course, that we recognise the procedures of the other Member States, that we try to work together, but, on the other hand, it also means what we have been very clearly calling for for many, many years in the European Parliament and that is the creation of common standards. I would ask you, with regard in particular to minimum standards in criminal proceedings and to detention conditions, to finally end your opposition to these measures and to recognise that we certainly do have the competence for this.

 
  
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  William (The Earl of) Dartmouth, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, when the European arrest warrant was proposed and steered through the European Parliament by a British Liberal Democrat MEP, it was already obvious then that the clear consequence of the European arrest warrant would be that British citizens and residents and, for that matter, citizens and residents of other Member States, would be carted off to countries where conditions in prison are of a lesser standard. That was totally obvious.

But in this place, there is an obsessive determination for there to be Europe, Europe and yet more Europe, and Parliament and the Commission then ignored the inconvenient truth that detention conditions are simply not the same in the 27 Member States. Those of us who represent constituents ensnared in the net of the European arrest warrant have become well aware of the grim prison conditions which can await them on remand and so on.

For that reason, I commend to you Amendment No 1 and related amendments. Whilst the European arrest warrant continues, nobody should be transferred to a jurisdiction where prison conditions fall below the standard in the home country.

Baroness Ludford very eloquently made the point, and I assume she is right, that in some Member States, a majority of people in detention are on remand and, assuming that this is true, so long as this applies, the European arrest warrant should be suspended, and suspended with immediate effect.

 
  
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  Csanád Szegedi (NI).(HU) Mr President, on behalf of the delegation of Jobbik, allow me first of all to thank you for your work and to wish you all the best for the future. Now, our position is that in respect of the detention situation, what we need is not alleviation but, quite on the contrary, restriction. Here, I would like to introduce a new concept to the European Parliament, namely that of self-sufficient, self-sustaining prisons. After all, from a criminological standpoint the significance of prisons lies not only in isolating a criminal from society for a certain amount of time; they should also have a deterrent effect. It is therefore utterly perplexing that the Hungarian state, for example, spends between EUR 800 and EUR 900 a month on every prisoner.

In the meantime, the state spends only a fraction of that amount on kindergarteners or university or secondary school students. What is more, the salary of people on the minimum wage is also a fraction of that amount. The extent of this disproportionality is simply incomprehensible. In our opinion, detainees should, in certain cases, that is, in the majority of cases, come up with the costs of their detention themselves. This is what would be worth discussing here in the European Parliament in the future.

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli (PPE). (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is one of the Union’s priorities and for this reason, I feel that detainees must be guaranteed dignified conditions in full respect of human rights, but as is known, all this is not true of most European prisons.

The problem of overcrowding is common to almost all Member States, and there are even some Member States whose prisons are holding detainees to more than 100% of their capacity. It would obviously be useful, even at the European level, to have at least minimum common standards as concerns custodial conditions, and a real strategy of its own to provide solutions to overcrowding in prisons.

A specific problem which deserves suitable study is that of children in prison with their mothers, a situation for which proper solutions, alternative to prison, must be found. All this must obviously come about with full respect for victims and injured parties and without overlooking the principle of the certainty of punishment, which must remain a priority as well as a keystone principle of our judicial systems and democracy itself.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Nicole Sinclaire (NI), Blue-card question. – Mr President, I would like to ask my colleague, who mentions the deplorable conditions in some EU detention centres, whether she would join my colleague, the Earl of Dartmouth, in calling for the suspension of the European arrest warrant?

Today, we have applauded with a standing ovation the Sakharov Prize. How can we talk about human rights in one vein, and be very sanctimonious and supportive of it, when, in the European Union itself, we have detention standards that are below common decency for human beings? Will she join me, and everyone else, in calling for the suspension of the European arrest warrant?

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli (PPE), Blue-card answer. (IT) I do not understand the question. I did not mention the arrest warrant. I agree with Ms Sinclaire that the conditions in most European prisons are not decent, but probably Ms Sinclaire wished to make a declaration and not so much ask me a question.

 
  
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  President. – That is not a point of order, Ms Sinclaire, so I cannot give you the floor.

 
  
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  Emine Bozkurt (S&D). – Mr President, for better European cooperation in the area of justice, it is crucial that the Member States can trust in each other’s justice systems. A shortcoming in detention conditions is one reason for this lack of trust. Even though detention conditions in some Member States might be worse than others, none of the Member States have a clear conscience when it comes to detention conditions. Problems such as overcrowded prisons and ill-treatment of the detainees are to be observed throughout the EU.

What is even more alarming are the cases of death and suicide in detention. In the resolution, we asked the Member States to prevent suicides in prison and to carry out in-depth and impartial investigations, systematically in cases where a prisoner dies in prison. Six months after the death of İhsan Gürz in police detention in the Netherlands, there are still several versions of what happened leading up to his death. This makes it difficult for İhsan’s family to have closure. Unfortunately, there are similar cases throughout Europe. Therefore, we are urging independent investigations to be conducted when someone dies in detention.

The detention conditions are perhaps the responsibility of Member States, but their shortcomings damage the trust which is needed to achieve judicial cooperation in criminal matters at European level. The lack of trust is preventing Member States from extraditing criminals. What does the Commission intend to do to ensure transparency in every Member State as to what happens in detention and how is the EU intending to ensure the fundamental rights of the detainees?

 
  
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  Cecilia Wikström (ALDE).(SV) Mr President, the proposal that we are debating today concerns how we are to strengthen trust between our Member States in the judicial sphere. Part of this concerns the conditions for those who have been detained, conditions which, in some cases unfortunately, are quite appalling. The European Court of Human Rights has, on many occasions, criticised the poor detention conditions and unreasonably long detention periods.

We now need to ensure that the fundamental human rights of detainees are respected and that the conditions in prisons maintain a fairly reasonable standard. We also need to get to grips with the problem of the abuse of pre-trial detention.

The Member States of the EU are now busy developing extensive judicial cooperation. This is based on the principle of the mutual recognition of judges and court rulings. In order for this to work, however, there needs to be trust between the Member States. Ensuring the fundamental rights of detainees must therefore be our top priority.

 
  
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  Rui Tavares (Verts/ALE).(PT) Mr President, what has occurred with the European arrest warrant and prison detention conditions will surely remind many European citizens of other situations in the European Union. Basically, we have this craze to do things half-cocked: unify where it is easy, then fail to harmonise where it is difficult.

I am in favour of the advantages and see the benefits of having a European arrest warrant. I believe it can be important for the victims and for justice to be done. On the other hand, as we have already said many times in this House, and as the Commission knows very well, we cannot continue for much longer, with regard to detention conditions, or procedural conditions in general relating to suspects and those accused of a crime, pushing ahead with the European arrest warrant without also plugging the gaps that exist at European Union level.

The European Commission is now well aware of these. It produced a Green Paper on the differences, the enormous variation, in detention conditions in the European Union. Basically, what we want to know is: what is the Commission now going to do to harmonise these conditions, because without that, it will always be very difficult for us to explain to our citizens what purpose the European arrest warrant serves and why it is that some suspects find themselves in conditions that are at times distressing, degrading and inhumane in some of the countries of the Union that have truly lamentable detention conditions.

 
  
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  Elena Oana Antonescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, public confidence and international cooperation on criminal matters depend on the quality of national legal systems. Europeans must feel confident that they will enjoy the same standards of protection no matter which European Union country they are in.

Detention conditions have a significant impact on how well the mutual recognition of court judgments operates. Overcrowding in jails and maltreatment of prisoners may undermine confidence, which is vital for judicial cooperation in the European Union.

This is why I believe that we need to identify good practices, and we need pilot projects on the issue of detention and good practices in administering prisons. Without doubt, our most important task is to establish the most suitable direction to go in with this reform and to what extent having a compulsory instrument at EU level is feasible.

This is why we are addressing the matter today with the Commission, as we have also done on other occasions, highlighting the need for urgent measures to be taken in this area.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: GILES CHICHESTER
Vice-President

 
  
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  Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE).(EL) Mr President, I, too, wish to congratulate and thank the Polish Presidency on its important contribution to crucial issues over the past six months.

A few days ago, a gun was found in the hands of a Greek prisoner and a massive riot then broke out in the biggest prison in Greece. As a result of this incident – which is why I have raised it – the question of detention conditions in correctional facilities was again at the centre of public debate. Like most European prisons, Greek prisons are overcrowded. For example, the occupancy rate in Greece is approximately 142% and, as my colleagues said, the Member States have an obligation under the European Convention to maintain humane conditions and to comply with minimum specifications, such as those set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Prevention of Torture and, of course, the Recommendation on the European Prison Rules.

However, in order for all this to happen and for us to be able to maintain a high level of respect for all detainees, we need to have appropriate infrastructures and, at a time when there are limited funds for creating new correctional facilities, and we all understand this in the midst of the present crisis, I should like to take advantage of the Commission’s presence to ask for an answer to the following question: is it feasible to release funds from various funds for this purpose, to create new correctional facilities in the Member States?

 
  
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  Tatjana Ždanoka (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, I recall the situation in my own country, Latvia. I know the situation very well, due to my experience as a human rights defender who has, for many years, worked on concrete applications coming from places of detention.

The Latvian Human Rights Committee (NGO), of which I am a member, has produced a number of reports on conditions of detention in Latvia, which it has submitted to the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture and the appropriate OSCE and Council of Europe bodies.

Thanks to our insistence, the place of detention for illegal immigrants situated at the very centre of Riga, in which people were held in terrible conditions, has been closed. But there still are huge problems relating to conditions of detention in Latvia, and the delegation of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture which visited Latvia in 2009 called on the Latvian authorities to improve conditions, especially for prisoners serving life sentences.

Therefore, we need EU legislation incorporating European prison rules, particularly as regards accommodation, access to health care and legal advice.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Mr President, it is for each Member State to decide on domestic legislation by itself. However, this matter is not being discussed in a vacuum; it is being discussed in the context of the appalling European arrest warrant.

There is no requirement for the country seeking a warrant to provide any evidence that the person has committed the offence, still less to meet any standard of proof. Indeed, the court processing the warrant cannot refuse to extradite on the ground of insufficient evidence. It can refuse only on the grounds of one of the five legal bars to extradition. Some people extradited on the warrant have to spend months in custody awaiting trial.

Whilst I, too, would like to see the arrest warrant suspended or abolished, that is not going to happen. In the meanwhile, countries must be persuaded to adhere to minimum standards.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Mr President, the European Commission’s recent review of the application of EU criminal law in the area of deprivation of personal liberty confirmed a number of problems in this area in the Member States.

Member States’ and the European Court of Human Rights’ condemnation of the conditions for detaining people, the length of remand and judicial administration is only confirmed by the Commission’s recent findings. As questions relating to remand or the conditions for detention fall partially within the power of the Union, the Commission has little scope for involvement in this area, particularly in relation to the more frequent detention of other nationals or the application of the European arrest warrant or the European supervision order. The procedural requirements for holding suspects in remand, the maximum length of their detention and also the conditions in which they are held and their health care should be harmonised on the basis of EU standards in such a way as to eliminate differences between Member States in terms of detention conditions.

 
  
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  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, I would thank honourable Members very much for their remarks. The Commission, as I said, is beginning to evaluate the comments which have been made in response to the Green Paper. The Commission will also carefully analyse your remarks and take them into account when it proposes legislation or considers proposing legislation.

 
  
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  Maciej Szpunar, President-in-Office of the Council. (PL) Mr President, honourable Members, I wish to thank you for raising this subject in the debate today. Of course, on the one hand, the Union has no power to harmonise the rules on the detention of prisoners or detainees in prisons. On the other hand, however, the issues you have raised are very important, and the Council will certainly examine them in detail if a Commission proposal touches on them in any way. I must also say personally that these examples of irregularities in the functioning of various provisions are very important, also from the point of view of the Polish Government.

I wish to take the opportunity to thank the Commission for drawing up the Green Paper, which is an example of how the Union’s institutions, despite the lack of sufficient authority, seek somehow to resolve this problem. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  President. – I have received one motion for a resolution(1) tabled in accordance with Rule 115(5) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Thursday, 15 December 2011).

 
  

(1) See Minutes

Last updated: 19 March 2012Legal notice