informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers

On the 12 and 13 July 2018, the informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of the EU-member states, will be held in Innsbruck. The 13 July will start with a working breakfast, attended by the Justice and Home Affairs ministers of the current EU Trio Presidency, namely of Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria plus Romania as incoming presidency, and those of the Eastern Partnership, namely of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The informal meeting of the EU Justice Ministers, dedicated to the topics of e-evidence, enhancing judicial cooperation in civil matters, and mutual recognition in criminal matters, will follow this working breakfast.

Justice - 13 July 2018

1. Working breakfast: Measures Against Corruption

The day’s agenda sets off by the working breakfast where the ministers of the EU Trio Presidency and the ministers of the Eastern Partnership come together to discuss measures against corruption. Corruption is a complex phenomenon with economic, social, political and cultural dimensions that jeopardizes the good functioning of public institutions, affecting the principles of legality and legal certainty and thereby posing a threat to the rule of law. The global, legally binding UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) comprises provisions on preventing and combatting corruption and has been ratified by all member states of the Eastern Partnership. The same member states are also part of Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), whose objective is to improve the capacity of its members to fight corruption by monitoring their compliance with Council of Europe anti-corruption standards through a dynamic process of mutual evaluation and peer pressure. The Eastern Partnership supports delivery on the key global policy goals as set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With the "20 Deliverables for 2020 agenda" the Eastern Partnership has recently focused on very concrete deliverables, one of which is to strengthen the "Rule of law and anti-corruption mechanism". By using mechanisms that range from prevention to enforcement, ensuring participation of civil society and maintaining good governance at all levels, confidence and trust of people in the national and local institutions shall and will be increased.

2. First working session: E-Evidence

The proposal for a Regulation on European production and preservation orders for electronic evidence in criminal matters, which will be discussed during the first working session, focuses on making electronic evidence more readily available. Internet providers should be legally motivated to make electronic evidence, such as Facebook posts or data stored in a cloud, available cross-border. Furthermore, the proposal for a Directive on the appointment of legal representatives should clearly identify the addressees of the Member States' orders. The member states shall implement rules in their national legal systems that force internet providers to oblige. The coming into force of these legislative proposals can be clearly seen as a tool to enhance efficiency in cross-border investigations. It would allow and quicken the obtainment of evidence which now cannot be obtained or only be obtained very difficultly. Clearly, some resistance from the communications industry is expected in regard to these legislative proposals, which is why during the informal meeting of the Ministers of Justice the discussion mostly resolved around the issue of direct cooperation between judicial authorities and providers. Several questions are about to arise in this context, such as to what extent providers should be given the opportunity to raise certain issues or trigger a review of the orders or decisions made by a judicial authority.

3. Second working session: Enhancing Judicial Cooperation in Civil Matters 

During the second working session, the ministers will discuss both, the European Service of Documents Regulation and the European Taking of Evidence Regulation. Both of these legislative acts are to be amended in order to address the need for modernisation, in particular digitalisation and the use of modern technology in the cross-border service of documents and taking of evidence, while strengthening procedural safeguards in parallel. Improvements such as mandatory electronic communication between the agencies or facilitation of electronic and direct service should increase the efficiency and speed of cross-border judicial proceedings by reducing the time spent on sending documents between agencies. In regard to evidence, the proposal aims at removing legal barriers to the acceptance of digital evidence and thus increasing legal certainty. This should help to avoid delays and undue costs for citizens, businesses and public administrations and to address shortcomings in the protection of parties’ procedural rights.

4. Working lunch: Mutual Recognition in Criminal Matters

Finally, the working lunch will be held under the premise of discussing mutual recognition in criminal matters. Mutual recognition is a proven concept which originally was adopted to protect the free flow of goods and services. In the meantime, mutual recognition in a Europe with disappearing borders serves to protect and enforce the private rights of citizens across borders and to strengthen and speed up judicial cooperation among the Member States. Instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), the four Framework Decisions making it possible to transfer the execution of a judgment to another Member State, the European Investigation Order, the European Protection Order and ECRIS, and the European Criminal Record Information System, have contributed to a major transformation of the judicial cooperation between the Member States. Cooperation between judicial authorities has been significantly facilitated and sped up, thereby reducing the length of criminal proceedings and the length of pre-trial detention. This European success story of mutual trust must be strengthened also in the future. It is taken into account by the case-law of the European Court of Justice, showing that there is potential for improvements. Mutual trust is one of the constitutional principles of the European Union and thereby the very basis for mutual recognition, which is the ‘cornerstone’ of the area of freedom, security and justice.