On the first of a two day Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg today Justice Ministers made substantial progress on a range of measures on the Justice for Growth agenda. Measures advanced at today's Council meeting will lead to enhanced rights for individuals, the protection of small businesses, a reduction in unnecessary red tape and tackling fraud within the EU budget.
Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, Chair of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, said:
“Today's progress across a whole range of Justice for Growth measures demonstrates the commitment and success of Ireland's efforts in this area. Stability, jobs and growth is the theme of the Irish Presidency and I am particularly pleased to have been able to advance so many important measures which will deliver tangible benefits for European businesses.”
Justice for Growth is a term used to describe the many legal and regulatory issues, falling within the justice sector, which can be used to boost economic growth and encourage job creation. Leveraging the potential of these measures is the top priority of Ireland's EU Presidency in the Justice sector.
A significant breakthrough was made on the EU's proposed Data Protection Regulation which will deliver much greater protection for Europeans doing business and socialising online, guaranteeing them greater control over, and protection of, their personal data.
Minister Shatter continued:
“The Irish Presidency has made exceptional progress on this important but complex proposal. Today’s discussion at Council showed that there is significant support for some of the key aspects of this proposal. These include the question of ‘consent’, the relationship between the right to protection of personal data and the rights to freedom of expression and enhanced transparency standards to facilitate more effective exercise of an individual’s rights.” The Irish Presidency will strive to further advance this important measure in the coming weeks."
Small businesses will be the main beneficiaries of two other Justice for Growth measures significantly progressed at Council today. Ministers reached agreement on key elements of a debt recovery measure a debt recovery measure which will make it easier for businesses operating across EU borders to recover money owing to them. Elements agreed today aim to strike the appropriate balance between the interests of the creditor and those of the debtor, pivotal to the operability of the measure.
Broad political guidelines were also agreed on Insolvency proposals. Ministers confirmed that the Insolvency Regulations should include relevant proceedings aimed at providing a "second chance" for viable businesses and "honest" entrepreneurs in financial difficulties. They also confirmed aspects of the proposed Regulation, concerning jurisdiction, which are designed to prevent abusive forum shopping.
Minister Shatter - "I am particularly pleased to have been able to advance so many important measures which will deliver tangible benefits for European businesses.”
All businesses, and in particular small and medium sized enterprises, will benefit from the reduction in red tape and regulatory obligations which will result from elements of the data protection proposals advanced today and new proposals presented by the Commission on the legalisation of certain public documents. The introduction of a ‘risk-based’ approach to the obligations of businesses handling personal data in the Data Protection Regulation received substantial support from Ministers. This will reduce onerous regulatory obligations on businesses for whom data processing is not a core activity. The proposal on the legalisation of documents aims to promote the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the European Union.
The Irish Presidency achieved a notable success in agreeing a general approach on a proposed Directive aimed at tackling fraud in the EU budget, a budget worth €960 billion over the next seven years. The purpose of the Directive is to define certain fraud and corruption criminal offences against the financial interests of the Union and to define criminal sanctions, including minimum sentences of imprisonment
Another key priority of Ireland's Presidency in the Justice area is the protection of fundamental rights. Ministers were briefed on the agreement reached by EU negotiators recently in Strasbourg with the 47 Council of Europe Member States on the draft accession agreement of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Reacting to the agreement, Minister Shatter said:
“This is a very important step forward towards the EU’s accession to the ECHR. Accession is a commitment under the Lisbon Treaty and will further strengthen the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe by ensuring that the EU is subject to the scrutiny of the Strasbourg Court in the same way that national governments are. I am very pleased that Irish Presidency negotiators have been able to contribute to achieving this goal.”
Also in the area of fundamental rights, Ministers debated the European Commission’s report on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and requested the Commission to begin the process of public debate and dialogue on how to strengthen the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law.