FECL 54 (May 1998):

EU AND APPLICANT COUNTRIES TO SIGN ‘PRE-ACCESSION PACT’ ON ORGANISED CRIME

The EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Ministers and their colleagues from the 11 applicant states (10 Central and Eastern European Countries and Cyprus) are expected to adopt a "Pre-accession Pact on Organised Crime" at the JHA Council-meeting on 29 May in Brussels, Agence Europe reports.

By concluding the pact (a legally non-binding political declaration of intent), the 15 EU-member states hope to speed up the adaptation of the 11 applicant countries’ policies in the fields of Justice and Policing to EU standards. Among other things the pact aims to

involve future member states in the timely implementation of the "Action Plan against Organised Crime" drawn up by a High-Level Group of police and security officials and approved by the Amsterdam European Council in June 1997 (see FECL No. 51: "High Level Group presents 'Action Plan' against organised crime");

help the applicant countries adopt the EU acquis relating to Justice and Home Affairs;

run common projects to fight "organised crime" and identify areas in which EU technical and financial assistance could facilitate the 11 applicant countries’ EU accession.

Under the pact, the applicant countries will, in particular, undertake to adopt and implement, "preferably before the end of 1998", a number of international Conventions named in the "Action Plan", including the 1958 Council of Europe Conventions on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (CMACM I), the 1959 European Convention on Extradition, the 1978 Protocol to the CMACM I, the 1967 Convention on Mutual Assistance between Customs Administrations (Naples I), the UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psycho tropic Substances, and the 1977 European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.

The pact also states the applicant countries’ determination to make the necessary preparations "as soon as possible" for joining Europol, and notes the EU member states’ satisfaction about the applicant countries already making "preliminary contacts with the Europol Drug Unit". Further, the pact stresses the importance, for the EU Fifteen, of early ratification of the 1995 and 1996 EU Conventions on Extradition, and, for the applicant countries, of adhering to these Conventions as soon as they become full members of the Union.

The pact emphasises that national judicial authorities must seek to implement effective cooperation between EU member states and applicant states. Among other things, the 26 states adhering to the pact are to set up "national contact points" for various forms of cooperation in the JHA areas. Finally, the pact provides for practical mutual assistance regarding criminal investigations, in particular, those dealing with "cross-border crime".

 

Source: Agence Europe, 24.04.98.

 

 

Comment

The planned Pact on Organised Crime may be seen as an attempt by the EU to make both the acquis and the goals of the Union’s JHA policy more intelligible to the applicant countries. It is, however, debatable, whether this objective can be achieved by a declaration of political intentions. As a matter of fact, confusion and incoherence are more than ever the main characteristics of the Fifteen’s policies in the JHA area. Over-lapping agendas of a plethora of EU and national bodies dealing with JHA issues have entailed ever more vague and "flexible" law-making. Special frameworks of "enhanced cooperation" such as Schengen, Council decisions such as "joint actions" that are not directly binding for the member states but nonetheless strongly affect national law-making and practice, conventions offering "opt- in" and "opt out" options and entering into force at different times in different member states, have brought about a legal (and sometimes more exactly "semi-legal") labyrinth that even the 15 member states’ own experts find hard to grasp.

How can one expect the 11 applicant countries to adapt to the EU’s JHA acquis when even the Fifteen find it difficult to agree on just what this JHA acquis is? How should they adapt to a "common" policy that is drawn up by a multitude of "working groups" of secretive bureaucrats and that is changing so quickly?

The lack of clear legal frameworks, of transparency and of democratic accountability that has always characterised JHA decision -making in the Union is now proving to become a problem for the decision-makers themselves. An article by Simon Coss in European Voice1) quotes EU officials complaining about poor coordination, lacking of coherence, and over-lapping of national and EU initiatives regarding assistance to applicant countries in the JHA area. An EU expert is quoted as saying there is "competition on all levels", between the large DGIA (the Directorate-General for external political relations headed by Commissioner Hans van den Broek, which is leading enlargement negotiations), Commissioner Anita Gradin’s much smaller JHA task force, and the ministers.

In a report published in February the Commission pointed out that the EU’s JHA-acquis is difficult to define and constantly changing. "Any acquis presented to the candidate countries today is likely to look very different by the time the first new member joins the Union", the report says. European Voice also notes that Ms Gradin’s officials claim it will be difficult to persuade the applicants to meet the Union’s JHA rules while existing EU governments show reluctance to respect them.

In Ms Gradin’s opinion it is a "scandal" that a number of finalised conventions on subjects such as Europol, customs cooperation and the fight against fraud are still awaiting ratification by national parliaments. Should the scandal not rather be seen in the fact that national parliaments and the European public were and still are being systematically and deliberately kept out of the decision-making and negotiation process at the origin of the above conventions? When will the JHA-decision makers in Brussels and in the Member States understand that, in the long run, secrecy and lacking accountability jeopardise sound and legitimate government?

 

N.B.

 

1. European Voice, Vol. 4, No. 13, 2.4.98.