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Procedure : 2005/2175(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0049/2006

Texts tabled :

A6-0049/2006

Debates :

PV 14/03/2006 - 16
CRE 14/03/2006 - 16

Votes :

PV 15/03/2006 - 4.3
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2006)0083

Debates
Tuesday, 14 March 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

16. Evaluation of the European arrest warrant (debate)
PV
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  President. The next item is the report (A6-0049/2006) by Adeline Hazan, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, on evaluation of the European arrest warrant (2005/2175(INI))

 
  
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  Adeline Hazan (PSE), rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, Mrs Gastinger, Mr Frattini, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome the opportunity given to us today to debate the European judicial area on the basis of my report on the still very recent, and therefore inevitably fragmented, assessment of one year’s implementation of the European Arrest Warrant. We have already had the opportunity to debate this matter.

Before turning specifically to the European Arrest Warrant, I should like to make one small point, because, underpinning this concept of a judicial area, which was formulated very gradually after the Geneva Appeal in 1996, was the ambition to give Europeans a common sense of justice in an environment in which the authorities do everything possible to prevent Europeans’ freedom – from being circumvented or their rights from being flouted.

In October 1999, the Tampere Summit marked an important stage, with the introduction of the mutual recognition principle. This change has been radical. It involves mutual confidence, the exercising of shared sovereignty and the recognition of the European area as a common territory.

Since then – as we have seen – problems persist and people need to be aware of these. It must be said that the inspiration and ambition that motivated the Heads of State or Government at Tampere have not injected the same degree of enthusiasm into the debates on the texts presented since then. Mutual recognition has inspired many projects, but it is the creation of the European Arrest Warrant that is undoubtedly the symbolic measure. The warrant does, in fact, represent a definite step forward, despite encountering persistent problems.

What, then, was the aim of this measure, which officially entered into force on 1 January 2004?

The European Arrest Warrant applies to a broader range of offences than those covered by the extradition procedure. Thanks to this warrant, the surrender procedure has become an entirely judicial, and no longer political, process – which is a bonus. The bottom line is that EU law can now be interpreted correctly by practitioners, whereas existing extradition law relies on an abundance of bilateral and national agreements. Furthermore, it has been pointed out on several occasions – including in Article 1 of the framework decision – that, when issuing and implementing the arrest warrant, the Member States and the judicial authorities must ensure that they strictly comply with the principles laid down in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Once the principles of this instrument are laid down, how are they implemented? We now have at our disposal an assessment carried out, as I said, over only a short space of time by the European Commission, and we must therefore remain cautious when faced with the results of this assessment, which is not yet complete. Some of the planned objectives have been fully achieved. For example, the Arrest Warrant came in very useful recently in the prosecution of an Ethiopian suspected by the British authorities of having been involved in the London bombings. His extradition by the Italian authorities was obtained in record time. Another success was the arrest of a corrupt judge, wanted by her country, Greece.

The European Arrest Warrant is an undeniable success story, with 3 000 warrants issued in 2004, 1 000 people arrested and 650 people handed over. The 2005 figures will undoubtedly show an increase, but they will not be officially available until June or July. The extradition procedure has been made much shorter. By replacing the old extradition procedure with the European Arrest Warrant, the average duration of the procedures has gone from nine months to 43 days, which is an appreciable gain for both the judges and those standing trial. Lastly – and most importantly – the procedure is no longer in any way politicised because it no longer involves governments, but only the justice system.

It must be said, however, that the application of the European Arrest Warrant has hit several stumbling blocks. Last autumn, for example, and in response to Berlin’s refusal to extradite the German-Syrian citizen Mamoun Darkazanli, an alleged Al-Qaeda figure, Spanish law declared the European Arrest Warrant issued by Germany to be null and void. Several Member States are also attempting to reinstate elements of the traditional system, such as the verification of double criminality. To the optional grounds for non-execution provided for by the framework decision, some Member States have added other grounds for refusing extradition.

Even more importantly, the issue of fundamental rights has given rise to considerable transposition problems in Poland and Germany. This difficulty must be interpreted as a failure to understand the principle of mutual recognition, and yet this principle is precisely the foundation on which the European judicial area is entirely constructed.

In conclusion, I would say that the European Arrest Warrant marks an important step forward in the fight against crime – above all in terms of serving Europeans - and in the creation of a European judicial area. The fact remains that there is still a host of problems and that these problems must not be underestimated. The first problem stems from the fact that our judicial systems are too different from one another. The second problem is that most of the Member States are still too keen to control international legal assistance. Even though the judicial system is a product of history, the issues that arise are going to have to be dealt with. To conclude: is more or less harmonisation needed? I believe that more is needed. Should more progress be made in terms of the mutual recognition of systems? I believe that, here too, the answer is yes.

 
  
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  Karin Gastinger, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Vice-President Frattini, Mrs Hazan, honourable Members of the European Parliament, firstly, let me thank you warmly on behalf of the presidency for this report on the evaluation of the European Arrest Warrant, which I have read with great interest. The Presidency shares your view – as indeed do I – that the European Arrest Warrant has, in essence, been a success. It has certainly been a milestone in improving cooperation between the European Union’s Member States, particularly as regards our common desire to combat organised crime and terrorism.

I believe we can also agree that it is of a quite new and exemplary character and has made an essential contribution to the further development of the mutual recognition principle, to which Mrs Hazan refers at several points and on which we agreed at the Tampere Council. We in the Council, at any rate, regard the European Arrest Warrant as the foundation for all the further work we will do in this area. I am particularly glad that your House shares our view.

Perhaps we might look back and recall how extradition procedures were formerly very long, unwieldy and, in many respects, dependent on political decisions. All of us who are active in this field found this state of affairs intolerable. All 25 Member States have now transposed into their own legal systems the framework decision on the European Arrest Warrant. If we look at how things stand today, we see that the procedure for handing over suspects is now speedy, efficient and, as a matter of principle, reserved to independent courts. That is of quite considerable benefit, and it is this framework decision that has made it possible.

It is also important that it has been possible – as the honourable lady who spoke before me stated – to quite considerably reduce the time that the extradition process takes. Until now, it generally took on average nine months, but the average time has now been reduced to between 40 and 45 days. That represents quite substantial progress, particularly in terms of fundamental rights, for you will all be aware that Article 5(3) of the Convention on Human Rights requires us to contribute to the speeding up of the processes by which people are taken into custody. This framework decision on the European Arrest Warrant has enabled us to largely comply with this requirement.

Despite the fears that you voice in your report about the critical views expressed in the rulings of national constitutional courts concerning transposition in some Member States, the presidency is not aware of any fundamental rejection of the European Arrest Warrant at national level. I myself am not aware of any, and I am sure that this is not happening. On this point, though, we must also bear in mind the fact that public confidence is to a large degree dependent on our conceding the possibility – for which there are certainly good legal reasons – of the implementation at national level for which we are making provision under the Framework Decision being subject to scrutiny by national supreme courts. That is a quite essential consideration. If such scrutiny reveals the need for some change in transposition at the national level, then that change will be carried out, but what really matters is that the public should have confidence in what we are doing at the European level.

Something else that is important and could make for repeated difficulties in interpretation – although I do not take as critical a view of this as you do in your report – is the exemplary character of the fundamental rights clause, which is not, formally speaking, a ground for rejection. That, too, is a quite essential consideration.

It is important, though, that we should allow our national courts to perform their essential function within the Member States, that being to examine whether their country’s legal system guarantees protection for fundamental rights. I do not believe that there should be any contradiction in this.

I do, however, perceive a contradiction in this report, in so far as it highlights, on the one hand, the risk of the discriminatory use of the fundamental rights clause, while at the same time – and this is something else I can fully endorse – stressing the need for the European Arrest Warrant, in its application, to specifically protect human rights and personal freedoms. Care must be taken that these do not conflict with each other.

As I have already said, the role of the national courts must be to ensure, on the basis of the fundamental rights clause, that the fundamental rights of our citizens are not infringed. That, too, must be part of the procedure under the European Arrest Warrant.

While I am on this subject, I would like to mention a case brought by Belgium before the European Court of Justice, in which the Court is asked to scrutinise the aspects of the arrest warrant relating to fundamental rights. Our expectation is that the Court will deliver an unambiguous ruling not only on the issue of the legal basis but also on that of the list of crimes in respect of which the double criminality test no longer applies. This list of 32 crimes has been the subject of recurrent debate, and we look forward to a clear statement concerning it.

Once such a clear ruling has been delivered, there will, without doubt, be further deliberations as to whether this list needs to be revised, and perhaps we can leave the matter there. Further conclusions will then be drawn as to whether that would be proper or worthwhile.

Let me take this opportunity to point out that the Presidency of the Council sees it as most important that we should treat the uniform application of the framework decision in the individual Member States of the European Union as a core priority. That is necessary if we are to make the mutual recognition principle a living reality.

It is also not a matter of dispute that, when the European Arrest Warrant is executed, the state executing it must safeguard human rights and, in particular, adhere to procedural safeguards. That, too, must be our common concern.

The presidency, like your House, takes it as read in this regard that the application and functioning of the European Arrest Warrant will need to be evaluated by means of thorough and unbiased examination. That is a quite essential consideration, and it is for that reason that the Council has already decided on a fourth round of mutual evaluation. The work entailed by this is running to timetable. From it we expect further results derived from practice, from which detailed knowledge applicable to practical implementation may emerge.

As for the practical use to which the European Arrest Warrant is put, I would like to state, very briefly in view of the time available, that long-term support for its implementation is available in the shape of information, readily accessible on the Internet, and provided not only by the Council Secretariat, but also by the European Judicial Network, and that the judicial atlas is also rendering outstanding service in this, so that the direct contact between the judicial authorities, which is so urgently necessary to the best possible application of the European Arrest Warrant has thereby been made considerably easier.

I would also like to highlight another aspect of not inconsiderable importance as regards practical application, which is that the European Arrest Warrant has made it possible for such formalities as certifications and so on to be kept to a minimum in proceedings between one state and another, for we now know that we do not need them if we trust each other and the mutual recognition principle is a lived reality. I believe that the European Arrest Warrant has had a quite vitally important part to play in this.

I therefore look forward to the rest of the debate, following which I will have a few other things to say in my concluding statement.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, Mrs Gastinger, Mrs Hazan, I believe that the European Arrest Warrant can be said to constitute a symbolic measure of European judicial cooperation in criminal matters. It implements – for the first time – the principle of the mutual recognition of judicial decisions and will, as I sincerely hope, soon be enhanced by other instruments, such as the proposed European Evidence Warrant. In addition to the European institutions, it is very important that we involve national parliaments in the debate, as was the case last October during the fruitful parliamentary sittings organised by this European Parliament.

I believe that Mrs Hazan’s report has enriched and, on several points, updated the conclusions drawn by the Commission with regard to the implementation of the European Arrest Warrant. We will take account of this when drafting our second evaluation report on the implementation of the Arrest Warrant. This second report will be sent to Parliament in June. As early as January of this year, the Commission presented a version of its first report updated to include Italy. A delay in transposition had in fact prevented us from including this Member State in the first report.

I agree with the bulk of the proposal for a recommendation addressed to the Council. As regards acting on the proposal for a recommendation by considering the possibility of extending the list of 32 categories of offence for which the verification of double criminality is abolished, I feel able to say to you that, as far as I am concerned, any possible progress along these lines is, in principle, desirable.

Nevertheless, the Commission will see to it that coherence between the various instruments of mutual recognition is preserved. The Commission therefore reserves the right to present proposals aimed at amending the framework decision once more experience has been gained. Mr President, I shall now make way for the continuation of the debate, at the end of which I shall no doubt intervene to make other remarks.

 
  
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  Panayiotis Demetriou, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (EL) Mr President, Vice-President of the Commission, Mrs President-in-Office of the Council, the report by Mrs Hazan is exceptional. I agree with all the recommendations and comments which she makes. Congratulations Mrs Hazan.

Ladies and gentlemen, the European arrest warrant tests the willingness to cooperate of and the spirit of mutual respect and mutual trust between the Member States of the European Union. It constitutes a huge step in the direction of the creation of a single area of justice and security, as well as a strong measure for combating crime. It puts an end to fugitives from justice, an end to the complications of the political process to extradite criminal suspects.

The presumptuous invocation by certain Member States of national sovereignty, of human rights and of the alleged supremacy of their national law in order to circumvent the institution of the European arrest warrant is dangerous. It goes without saying that each Member State individually and all the Member States in general have a fundamental obligation to comply faithfully with and apply human rights in their judicial proceedings and there is no room for needless doubt.

The institution must be strengthened and three steps need to be taken in order to do so: firstly, the institution of the European arrest warrant needs to be moved from the third pillar to the first pillar. Secondly, the Council needs to adopt, as quickly as possible, the proposal to harmonise minimum criteria in criminal proceedings. Thirdly, every constitutional obstacle to the application of the European arrest warrant needs to be removed. Already in my country, in Cyprus, the Constitution is being amended within the next few days so that Cyprus can come into line with this institution. Combating crime is not just a national issue. It is pan-European. That is why we all need to help to strengthen the European arrest warrant.

 
  
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  Martine Roure, on behalf of the PSE Group. (FR) Mr President, I should like to thank our rapporteur for her very thorough work. In fact, this report not only enables us to assess the European Arrest Warrant - the first practical instrument of the European judicial area - but also gives us the opportunity to redefine our priorities as far as the implementation of a genuine European judicial area is concerned.

As we have said, the European Arrest Warrant has been an overwhelming success: 2 600 warrants have been issued throughout the European Union since its creation, with the result that judicial procedures have been considerably speeded up.

Borders are therefore no longer an obstacle to justice. This success shows that the Member States are willing to work together. We are thus strengthening the principle of mutual confidence, which is the cornerstone of the European judicial area. The European Arrest Warrant has nonetheless encountered obstacles put in the way of its application by certain governments, and I regret Italy’s delay in transposing the legislation. This delay meant that the Commission was late in assessing that country.

Furthermore, the Member States interpret the warrant differently in their national laws. This also illustrates the Member States’ lack of political will and the limits imposed by the method of decision making in this area. Nevertheless, the success of the European Arrest Warrant demonstrates that it is impossible to limit ourselves to civil law. We must be more ambitious and extend judicial cooperation to criminal law.

That is why we consider it crucial to have recourse to Article 42 and the ‘passerelle’ in order to permit a minimum harmonisation of European criminal legislation. We will thus be able to put an end to the unanimity rule, which slows down the implementation of a genuine area of freedom, security and justice.

Furthermore, we must bridge the democratic gap, and only the full involvement of the European Parliament in the creation of the European judicial area will enable fundamental rights to be protected. Moreover, how can we succeed in making progress if we limit ourselves to security matters? Let us make progress in police matters, certainly, but we must also set high standards with regard to fundamental rights. Thus, the proposal on procedural guarantees must be addressed at the same time.

To conclude, I have a specific question to ask the Commission and the Council: when will we finally be able to make progress with other practical instruments, such as the exchange of evidence and information between criminal records bureaux?

 
  
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  Graham Watson, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, I should like to congratulate Mrs Hazan, Parliament’s rapporteur. My group broadly shares her assessment and her concerns. I was the rapporteur who took this issue through the House. I had the honour to do so in 2001. However, I would not be speaking here for my group today were it not for the fact that our colleague, Mr Duquesne, who was Interior Minister in Belgium at the time and very supportive of this measure, is sadly seriously ill in hospital.

At the time we took the measure through we believed that the European Arrest Warrant offered practical solutions to the issues of greatest concern to Europe’s citizens: their safety and security.

Experience has shown that the warrant is Europe’s chief asset in the fight against cross-border crime, allowing our judicial authorities to reduce the extradition process to an average of 13 days in over half of all cases. That is 13 days compared to the months of waiting that went before. It has been well used by Member States and has generally worked well.

Nobody would deny that there have been some teething problems. In addition to delays in implementation, controversial court decisions in Poland and Germany have raised eyebrows – and accusations that this measure violates fundamental rights. Nonetheless, all Member States are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights and by European Court of Human Rights case-law, as stated specifically in this measure.

I have two questions today. The first is to the Council. Will the Council name and shame the Member States that are blocking the framework decision on procedural rights, which would set to rest any concerns about violations of fundamental rights in this measure? What does the Council believe is the likely timetable for agreement of the framework decision?

The second question is to the Commission. Could the Commissioner tell us if the warrant has now been correctly implemented in the country he knows best and whether any other Member States are dragging their heels, and will he start proceedings against any Member State that has misapplied the law or limited its effects?

 
  
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  Kathalijne Maria Buitenweg, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (NL) Mr President, it is beyond dispute that the European arrest warrant is already paying off in many ways, but while it makes the extradition system more efficient, considerably quicker and also less arbitrary, it still has flaws. At the time, my group was opposed to its introduction, because it was not accompanied by agreements on minimum standards in criminal proceedings. What has now been done relates only to the tracing of suspects, without putting the necessary guarantees in place for their rights. This may have the appearance of decisive action and being tough on crime, but it is at the same time an obstacle to cooperation in the area of extradition.

Three years after the arrest warrant was adopted, the situation remains unchanged. The framework decision for procedural rights of suspects has not yet been adopted by the Council. I would join Mr Watson in his appeal to the Council to clarify which Member States are opposed to an improvement in the rights of suspects and for what reason. Indeed, what is being said, also by Mr Demetriou, is that whilst all Member States must adhere to the rights of suspects and the human rights convention, there are also a huge number of legal cases running in Strasbourg. Equally, there are very many differences between the Member States, particularly in relation to those procedures.

If we were all agreed on the rights of suspects, then the signing of this agreement on procedural rights would, of course, be a mere formality, but that is not the case, because there are many major differences which result in national courts now trying to figure out the conditions under which people are allowed to be extradited. This means that in a number of legal cases, people have not been extradited to other EU Member States. One example of this was a legal case in Bolzano where the local court refused to hand over an Italian to Austria.

Once we have common agreements on the rights of suspects, suspects will also be surrendered much more easily. I would therefore ask the Council not to consider this to be a bonus for the rights of suspects, but as a necessary component, namely that repression and tracing go hand in hand, while at the same time guaranteeing the rule of law, even at European level. After all, the lack of mutual trust between the Member States will also adversely affect the tracing aspect.

 
  
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  Giusto Catania, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, in order to assess the European arrest warrant a comprehensive analysis should be made of the effects that the framework decision has on legal cooperation, the mutual recognition of offences, respect for individual procedural guarantees and civil liberties.

Unfortunately, we are currently experiencing considerable problems, with some Member States having had difficulties in applying the warrant because they are actually hindered by their national constitutions. It would, however, be a mistake to think about distorting national constitutions in order to make the arrest warrant work.

Today’s evaluation, unfortunately, has had to do without data from one country: Italy, which, in order to protect private interests, due to a decidedly Eurosceptic and anti-European ministry, has not transposed the EU legislation by the required time.

Finally, it is not possible to think of creating a European arrest warrant without first establishing common minimum standards for criminal procedure and without putting in place shared procedural guarantees. Parliament has already expressed an opinion on minimum procedures, and we are waiting for the Council to go forward on this point. It has been like building a block of flats starting with the roof instead of the foundations.

In fact, the European arrest warrant can certainly be a useful tool in removing the extradition of criminals from the political arena, and there have already been some positive examples on this point, but the procedure is vitiated by a fatal flaw, an original sin that has sprung from the haste of having to react to terrorist attacks by enacting emergency legislation.

I wholeheartedly agree with the evaluation put forward by Mrs Hazan in her report. The text has been improved in committee, and we have also avoided extending the list of 32 offences, but our judgment cannot help but spring from the erroneous starting-point brought about by the obsession with security. There is an old Italian proverb that says ‘more haste, less speed’. This applies perfectly to the evaluation of the first year of application of the European arrest warrant.

 
  
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  Johannes Blokland, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (NL) Mr President, I endorse this measure to fight terrorism more effectively. In the 2002 debate, I argued that only offences for which a European, or international, definition existed should be put on the list. The current list of offences is too broad, and that may result in legal uncertainty and discrimination. Member States are therefore seizing every opportunity to apply the criterion of double criminality.

Mrs Hazan is right in urging the Council to ensure that this double criminality be abolished. Initially, she even asked for the list of offences to be extended – a request that the Commission rejected. Given the present indicators, this was not at all timely. It is preferable to follow the developments in the next two years from a close range. I expect that, if anything, an assessment will need to lead to the present list being cut back. The list can only be extended whilst guaranteeing legal certainty if all specified offences are defined at European level. It would, however, be undesirable, for criminal law to be harmonised surreptitiously on the back of this decision.

 
  
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  Brian Crowley, on behalf of the UEN Group. Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur for her work on this issue. Unfortunately, however, like all of us here in Parliament, the rapporteur seems to be working at somewhat of a disadvantage, because we do not have access yet to the Council and the Commission’s evaluation mechanism concerning the operation of the European Arrest Warrant.

We can learn some things from the experience we have already gained. On the positive side, compared with the old extradition process, the time delay has reduced dramatically. Members speak of between 90 days and 42 days, but some extradition proceedings that would have gone on for years between Member States of the European Union in the past have now been reduced to 42 days.

However, we have to be careful to tread very softly with regard to constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms. Some courts have put a question mark about the operation of the European Arrest Warrant, whether as regards its transposition into international law by the mechanism used or as regards the way that certain courts have interpreted elements of the arrest warrant process.

Irrespective of harmonisation, this idea of mutual respect, trust and understanding between the judicial authorities is the first step towards creating a wider and more inclusive area of judicial operation. One of the difficulties we face is that we have different legal systems within the EU Member States, which have built up bodies of law and precedent. To some extent that affects how we can best utilise this area. That is why limiting the categories of offences to 32 was a good idea in the initial stage. Now, however, after the experience we have gained, we can look at this more closely.

My last point is that we should not rush towards achieving all these goals in the short term. Let us not forget that some countries have only transposed the framework decision in the last number of months. We need more time to look at the evaluation and to ensure that the proper operation takes place.

Finally, fundamental respect for human rights and freedoms must be at the core of all our work in this area.

 
  
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  Koenraad Dillen (NI). – (NL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, two weeks ago, when our state security managed to let Fehriye Erdal, a dangerous terrorist from the Turkish terrorist movement DHKP-C, escape, the day before she was due to be sentenced to four year’s imprisonment, and without even one minister being called to account over it, Belgium was once again held up to ridicule by the entire European Union. In other Member States, the DHKP-C has been listed as a dangerous terror group for a long time, but not so in Belgium, where Erdal enjoyed shelter and asylum undisturbed.

I was, in spite of myself, reminded of this when we started assessing the development of the European arrest warrant. If we want to carry out an effective assessment into the uniform rules and procedures to fight cross-border crime, including terrorism, using the European arrest warrant among others, then the only conclusion I can come to when blunders of this kind occur is that the European Union still has a very long way to go.

 
  
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  Jaime Mayor Oreja (PPE-DE). – (ES) Mr President, I would like firstly to congratulate the rapporteur, Mrs Hazan, on a report that is undoubtedly accurate and rigorous.

I would like to say that the approval of the European Arrest Warrant — and we must never forget this — was not simply the approval of just one more legal instrument, and nor did it merely replace an obsolete extradition system; the reality is that it was a symbol, it was a response and it reflected a new attitude.

It was a symbol of the urgent need to create a European judicial and policing space. It was the European response to the terrible September 11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York and, at the same time, it reflected the political attitude that terrorism had to be combated actively and that security had to be tackled by means of an internal European Union policy, one of the great objectives that we should be making a point of pursuing.

I must point out that I had the opportunity to present this Warrant during the era when I was in the Council of Ministers and, unfortunately, it was not approved until the 11 September attack happened. It is therefore essential that we do not reintroduce verification of double criminality, that we resolve the various forms of incompatibility with different Constitutions and that the national judges do not introduce supplementary instruments before another attack obliges us urgently and hurriedly to introduce modifications to this extremely important Warrant.

There must not therefore be any obstacles or timidity in relation to this issue. Unequivocal will is undoubtedly required, and we must also remember the extremely important work of a Home Affairs Minister of that era, Antoine Duquesne, who is not here today but who played a decisive and crucial role in making it possible for the European Arrest Warrant to be the subject of our debate here this afternoon.

 
  
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  Stavros Lambrinidis (PSE).(EL) Mr President, Minister, Vice-President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I too should like to take my turn in congratulating the rapporteur on her report. The European arrest warrant on its own is not an adequate tool for the creation of a European area of security, freedom and justice, nor will we achieve its proper application unless we substantially strengthen mutual trust between judges, unless we apply minimum common rules to criminal proceedings which safeguard suspects' fundamental rights and unless we achieve a rudimentary approximation of national laws.

That is why we are also calling, as a first step, for the approval of the framework decision, with the European Parliament's amendments, on certain procedural rights within the framework of criminal proceedings in the European Union. We also hope that the future human rights service will take on a substantial role in the protection of and respect for human rights and personal freedoms and in the field of the European arrest warrant.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Mr President, the utility of the European arrest warrant was illustrated, especially for my constituents in London, when Hussein Osman, a suspect in the 21 July attempted bombings, was returned to Britain to face justice in weeks rather than years. However, two thirds of Member States have introduced explicit grounds for refusal: violation of fundamental rights. To the extent that this is valid, it justifies the welcome change of heart by the Austrian Presidency towards a conviction that there must be agreement on minimum standards for fair legal proceedings.

However, we need to do more to invest in the criminal justice system, as the European Parliament called for a year ago. Sadly, many leading politicians give in to the temptation to criticise judges for judgments they do not like. Last year the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, boasted of how he had battered the criminal justice system. Instead of questioning basic rights, such as the presumption of innocence and habeas corpus, and possibly colluding in torture flights and extraordinary rendition, we need to raise standards, not lower them.

 
  
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  Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann (GUE/NGL).(DE) Mr President, Mrs Gastinger, Commissioner, in July last year, the German Federal Constitutional Court declared null and void Germany’s law implementing the European Arrest Warrant. It quite rightly demanded that the German legislators should fully discharge their responsibility for protecting and maintaining the fundamental civil rights guaranteed by the German Basic Law, and this ruling was without doubt a resounding clip round the ear for them.

It is with that in mind, Mrs Gastinger, that I find it quite simply incomprehensible that the Council should allow the framework decision on procedural rights in criminal proceedings to drag in this way without, to date, doing anything about it. That is quite simply unacceptable, and the accused must be given far more rights to take account of the European Arrest Warrant. I endorse what has already been said by many Members of this House.

These rights include, of course, the requirement that the accused be informed of their rights in a language with which they are familiar. They must have the right to avail themselves of the services of an interpreter, and it must of course be guaranteed that the documents relevant to criminal proceedings be translated.

Mrs Gastinger, the Council must at last do something about this; it is quite essential that it should, for the citizens of the European Union must have the certainty that their rights are protected and respected in the same way throughout Europe.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Ashley Mote (NI). – Mr President, those countries used to Roman and Napoleonic law have to accept that the state governs their lives, but in Britain any such idea is an abomination. Where I come from, the state does not exist in its own right and the government of the day answers to us: those who elected it.

Our safeguards against any attempt by the state to interfere in freedoms and rights go back hundreds of years and are protected by common and statute law. No European has the right to detain and remove a British subject from the UK without due process, and that means protection from imprisonment after three days unless a court hears the evidence and decides otherwise. It also means no offence can exist that is not an offence in the UK: xenophobia, for example, can stand as a charge in the UK. We still enjoy the presumption of innocence, protection of trial by jury and freedom from double jeopardy, despite the disgraceful efforts of the Blair Government to fall into line with what the EU chooses to call law.

The people of your countries would be far better off enjoying the rights and freedoms of the British. Learn that lesson and you might start winning hearts and minds. Someone should tell Mrs Wallström ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho (PPE-DE).(PT) Mrs Gastinger, Mr Frattini, ladies and gentlemen, I should also like to begin by congratulating Mrs Hazan on her excellent report. As Mr Mayor Oreja said, we welcome the creation of the European Arrest Warrant as an innovative and highly effective step in developing judicial cooperation and stepping up cooperation and mutual trust. The warrant will guarantee equal legal protection for EU citizens and will become one of the main instruments in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.

Unfortunately, this first assessment has revealed a number of problems preventing it from being implemented in full and undermining mutual trust. There have been difficulties in its transposition, for example, recourse to constitutional jurisdiction in various Member States, and practical obstacles in using the warrant, such as the translation, transmission and use of different forms. There has also been resistance among several Member States wishing to retain certain elements of the traditional extradition system, such as control over double jeopardy and the intervention of political authorities in the judicial procedure.

I should like to highlight three points: Firstly, I wish to reiterate the benefits that adopting the draft Constitutional Treaty would bring to this area of judicial and police cooperation, in particular the removal of the pillars. As Mr Demetriou said, we need to make use of the resources at our disposal, including the passerelle referred to in Article 42 of the Treaty enabling the Member States to incorporate the European arrest warrant in the first pillar so as to ensure greater transparency and democratic control by Parliament and legal control by the Court of Justice.

Secondly, I wish to point out that we should draw on the Nordic arrest warrant as a source of inspiration for strengthening the effectiveness of the European arrest warrant. The Nordic arrest warrant boasts some innovative aspects, including a more effective system of delivery and shorter procedural deadlines.

Thirdly and lastly, it is crucial that, as Mr Frattini said, both Parliament and the national parliaments take part in the forthcoming assessment on the progress made in implementing the European arrest warrant.

 
  
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  Genowefa Grabowska (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, I should like to join with previous speakers in congratulating the rapporteur.

In 2002 the European Union proposed a new mechanism as part of its efforts to combat crime. I refer to the European Arrest Warrant. Now, almost four years later, we are to evaluate the efficiency of its implementation and provide an answer to the question as to what should be done to ensure that criminals no longer feel safe in Europe. I would like to make just two comments, if I may.

Firstly, it is to be regretted that pursuant to the current legal system the European Arrest Warrant is a third pillar instrument and does not come within the competence of either the European Parliament or the European Court of Justice. Clearly, a change is required. It should be borne in mind, however, that pursuant to the European Constitution pillars will be removed and instruments for the administration of justice developed. In addition, more procedures will become part of Community competence. As a result, the Union should become more effective and its decisions more transparent and democratic in nature. In this connection, it is worth highlighting that the part of the Constitutional Treaty outlining these methods was never the subject of any protest. It was not contested in any way in the course of the recent ratification campaigns, which bodes well for this institution.

My second comment is that despite the success achieved in implementing the European Arrest Warrant, it has come up against a number of significant legal obstacles in certain countries. The House has heard about the situation in Germany and in Cyprus. We are aware of the position in Belgium and Italy too. There are also difficulties implementing the European Arrest Warrant in my own country, Poland. It has become part of the Criminal Code and is being implemented, but in April 2005 the Constitutional Court ruled that the Warrant was unconstitutional. We were granted 18 months to remedy the situation and now only seven months remain. I would like to hope that Poland will resolve this contradictory situation in time.

 
  
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  Ioannis Varvitsiotis (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, the two basic poles in European cooperation on criminal matters are the principle of mutual recognition of judgments and the harmonisation of the laws of the Member States. These two principles complement each other; however, their implementation is difficult to achieve and will take a great deal of time.

Nonetheless, every possible effort must be made to bring about a common criminal policy in the European Union. The European Arrest Warrant constitutes a first, important step in the principle of the mutual recognition of criminal judgments and helps to consolidate a common legal culture. Naturally, despite the fact that progress has been made with the procedure to adapt the European Arrest Warrant, there are still certain difficulties which continue, among other things, with the uniform or non-uniform transposition of the framework decision into the national laws of the Member States and the categories of offences whose criminality is not checked. Particular attention must be paid to these difficulties.

Similarly, and I address myself to the President-in-Office of the Council and Austrian Minister, Mrs Gastinger, I wonder why there should be this list of 32 crimes and why we do not simplify the entire process by saying that all offences punished by over three years in prison are subject to this arrangement. This would do a great deal to accommodate both national legislation and national judges. I am certain that, with the capability which distinguishes you, Minister, you will address this matter.

 
  
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  Karin Gastinger, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Mr Vice-President of the Commission, honourable Members of the European Parliament, in my concluding statement, I would like to reiterate in quite general terms that we, despite the thoroughly justified criticisms that you have made of various points today, can take it as read that the European Arrest Warrant is certainly something of which we can all be proud. The fact is that it was a first and vital step towards our jointly combating crime and terrorism on the basis of the mutual recognition principle. That is something very important, and it is something of which we must never lose sight.

Several Members have asked me to say something about the minimum procedural safeguards in criminal trials, and I think this is a very important point. Mr Watson, Mrs Buitenweg, Mr Catania, Mr Lambrinidis, Mrs Ludford and Mrs Kaufmann have raised the issue. I am sure that you are aware that we spent a lot of time discussing this whole area during the informal Council meeting in Vienna on 13 and 14 January.

I am also sure that you are aware that this framework decision – and I do not hesitate to say what I am about to say – is, at the moment, in a sort of dead-end, and this is something that all of us in the Council very much regret. I can assure you that we in the Council most certainly do have the political will to put these minimum procedural guarantees for the accused in criminal cases in the form of a regulation of one kind or other. We want thereby to send out a very important political message.

There are also problems with the framework decision itself, for some Member States have doubts about the legal basis for the adoption of a legal instrument at European level, and that, as I am sure you can imagine, is an issue that it is rather difficult to evade. A look at the details reveals that these doubts have to do, in particular, with the scope and similar points, which we are discussing, but I can assure you, on behalf of the Austrian Presidency, that we regard this as a high-priority matter and that we do want to achieve real progress on it during our presidency.

We must also, however, bear in mind the fact that the minimum procedural guarantees are one point on which we have to add value to the Human Rights Convention, more specifically to its Article 6, for that Article 6 is our common foundation in Europe, and something to which we all feel committed.

In the course of our presidency, then, we will attempt to reach a solution to this in order to take the next step, which really is essential. What is most important to us is that we should be able to move on out of the cul-de-sac in which we currently find ourselves.

Mrs Roure raised another important issue, that of what progress we have achieved with the other instruments, essentially the European evidence procedure and the exchange of information between judicial authorities. What I can tell you about evidence procedures is that quite considerable progress has been made on this at Council level. It goes without saying that the list of 32 offences – to which this debate has returned again and again – is back on our agenda. I will discuss the question later on.

That too is an item for debate, but I am full of hope that on this too we will make a great deal of progress during our presidency. We may well manage to bring this matter to a conclusion, but, even if that proves impossible, we will be able to hand over to the Finnish Presidency a dossier which is very close to completion.

If I may turn to the framework decision on the implementation and content of the exchange of information from criminal records between the Member States and the framework decision on the protection of personal data processed in the course of police and judicial cooperation, I can tell you that we are discussing this in working parties, and, here too, we believe that we will be able to move forward.

Mr Varvitsiotis asked why we do not take as a basis a three-year prison sentence rather than the 32 offences on the list, and I am able to say, in response to that, that – as I am sure you are aware – these 32 offences were the subject of long and in-depth discussion in the Council before we were able to agree on them. That was a very difficult process, and we are now glad that we have the list. What must not be forgotten when considering these 32 offences is that what is laid down by means of this list is that these are the areas in which, in practice, double criminality is not subject to extra scrutiny. That is the background to the list of 32 offences. Extradition and the application of the European Arrest Warrant continue, nevertheless, to be options in other areas in which only double criminality is checked in order for the European Arrest Warrant to come into play.

As I have already said, these 32 offences are again a subject for discussion in relation to the European evidence warrant, for we do of course know that some of these offences are very broadly defined, while others relate to very specific acts. When seen in today’s light, this is not really coherent, and we are well aware of this. Even so, we are glad that it is in place, and, on the basis of the experience gained with the European arrest warrant, we will of course continue to work on this list. I would ask you to give us time; we need time if we are eventually going to have a good basis for even better cooperation in this area.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make a few observations following that interesting debate.

First of all, I would like to point out that monitoring of the transposing of the law on the European arrest warrant will continue and that Parliament has at its disposal our evaluations on all the Member States, which since January includes Italy, with an additional report; in June there will be another report.

I would like to say to Mr Watson that, unfortunately, the Commission is not able to launch proceedings for breach in accordance with Community law since this is a third pillar instrument. I am particularly happy to hear what some Members said regarding the possibility, with which I would obviously agree, of transferring to the first pillar an instrument that is of such great importance in the fight against terrorism and crime; that would clearly give rise to the positive result of even more effective and forceful monitoring than is currently possible for us.

We will continue to highlight the strong points as well as the weak points of each transposing law. We will do this while remaining in continuous contact, Mr Coelho, with the national parliaments, since obviously we must make them aware of any problems that exist. Sometimes these are linked to constitutional issues and at others to parliamentary issues, and they have made it difficult in some states for the procedure to be fully implemented. In my view, this amounts to respect for the principle of proper cooperation between the institutions.

I would like to conclude by saying that it will be necessary to integrate this European action programme with the European evidence warrant. I have already said this, but I say it again now: I find it strange that we have been able to reach agreement on transferring people from one country to another, while we have not succeeded in transferring the evidence, which is a considerably less significant element in terms of invasion of fundamental rights, and of mutual trust. There is sufficient trust to hand over a person who has been arrested, and still we cannot succeed in agreeing on collecting a piece of evidence from one country and transferring it to another.

I agree with Mrs Gastinger’s assessment of the need to make real progress and I hope that with the Austrian Presidency agreement will be reached on the few remaining points of disagreement.

The same applies to procedural rights: I must thank the Austrian Presidency, which is expending great efforts in the attempt to reach an agreement, and in my opinion it does not seem that the legal basis is a reason for difficulty. There are legal arguments, but all legal arguments lend themselves to debate.

I am convinced that there is a foundation for reaching agreement on a European initiative relating to procedural rights; in political terms this would be an extremely important signal.

I know that there is a commitment on the part of the Presidency; equally important is the commitment on the exchange of criminal record information. At the same time, the repressive approach must constantly be balanced by boosting rights and freedoms, and this will give us one more political card with which to combat crime.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday at 11.30 a.m.

 
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