Call for legal rights to confront crisis in EU

Mon, Oct 29, 2012, 00:00

THERE ARE REAL problems in the operation of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in that some judicial systems do not work properly and no one will face up to it, according to Sir John Thomas, president of the Queen’s Bench division of the High Court of Justice in London. He was addressing a conference of the Academy of European Law (ERA) in Trier on The Citizen at the Heart of Europe, which marked the 20th anniversary of the academy.

While the EAW generally worked very well, he said, what undermined it in the UK was a lack of confidence in the judiciary in Europe to run a fair and efficient justice system. There were a few countries whose justice systems had been condemned as inadequate.

“Can you have a Europe-wide examination of justice systems to make sure they are efficient?” he asked. “Could you have league tables?”

However, he acknowledged that this would be impermissible for the Commission, and the European Court of Justice lacked an infrastructure to conduct such an examination.

“The judges themselves will have to do something. Why does the ERA not set about training people in getting cases through?” he asked. “When a person is surrendered to another country they should be guaranteed the justice system will get on with the job of trying them. It is unfair for people who will be found not guilty to be held hundreds of miles away for long periods. It is up to an organisation like the ERA to ensure the citizen is at the heart of Europe and if he ends up in another country he will get a fair trial.”

Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for justice, argued that citizens must feel secure and “an independent and efficient judiciary offers the citizen the feeling of security”. She pointed out that this year the European Commission had to intervene twice in regard of the independence of the judiciary, in Hungary and in Romania.

One lesson to be drawn is that “we lack efficient and effective mechanisms in the EU to enforce the rule of law”. Referring to this as the “Copenhagen dilemma”, she said: “The Copenhagen criteria on the rule of law and democracy are strong in the accession process but not when countries are members.”

The conference also discussed the relationship between citizenship, European integration and national constitutions, the relationship between the market and democracy and fundamental rights protection in the EU.

Pauliine Koskelo, president of the supreme court of Finland and chair of the ERA board of trustees, pointed out that, faced with the financial and debt crises, citizens in various parts of Europe felt they were not benefiting from European integration. It was important to distinguish from bad policies that required change and the European institutions in general. “Rights need to be backed by resources, if not, they are empty rights,” she said.

Differences were expressed between the employers’ and trade union bodies on the possible impact of the Charter of Fundamental Rights on the impact of the crisis.

Maxime Cerutti, of Business Europe in Brussels, argued against attempting to use the Charter of Fundamental Rights to block necessary reforms. We are in times of “exceptional circumstances that require exceptional measures,” he said.

Stefan Clauwaert, of European Trade Union Institute in Brussels, said that in times of crisis we need to ensure social peace.

“We are in a race to the bottom,” he said, which is being driven by the EU. Mr Clauwaert said the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Council of Europe should be allowed to join the Troika.

In his welcome address Wolfgang Heusel, director of ERA, reminded the participants that when the academy was set up in 1992 one of the goals of the founders was “the establishment of a culture of law and the creation of a European community of Jurists”, an aim that is still very timely today.

The academy, which employs 70 people in Trier, arranges seminars and conferences and offers courses in various aspects of European law to lawyers and judges across Europe.

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