Speech by Minister of Justice Henriksson in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), 4 September 2019
Distinguished Chair López Aguilar,
Members of the LIBE Committee, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to be here today and present the Justice Affairs priorities of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. LIBE committee is in a key position from the point of view of our Presidency Programme.
In May, the European citizens gave their clear support to European cooperation. The highest voter turnout in the EU elections in over 20 years gave a strong mandate for the European Parliament to act and to take decisions on behalf of and for the benefit of EU citizens. The increased turnout is hugely important for the EU’s democratic legitimacy. I wish to congratulate you all for your success in activating voters in your respective countries.
The slogan of our Presidency is ‘Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future’. I believe that the European Union can and must deliver, but it can deliver only because the European Union is a community of values.
As a first priority of Finland´s Presidency, I want to underline our commitment to do all that we can to strengthen our common European values. The rule of law is the glue that holds the Union together and affects every aspect of its work, from fundamental rights to a well-functioning single market. Violations of the rule of law undermine the trust of citizens and companies in their rights and weaken their trust in the European system.
These are the reasons why Finland wants to reinforce the EU’s existing rule of law toolbox. Finland welcomes the Commission’s recent communication on strengthening the rule of law and on establishing a new annual reporting mechanism. We are committed to advance the objectives set out in the communication.
The European Parliament, and in particular the LIBE Committee, have contributed significantly to the European commitment to the rule of law. It is the numerous hearings and resolutions of the European parliament that have pushed us towards more effective rule of law tools.
With this in mind, I decided to have the principle of the rule of law on the agenda of the Informal Meeting of Ministers of Justice in July. The effectiveness, independence and quality of national justice systems are key aspects of the rule of law. The implementation of these principles will also have an impact on cooperation within the European Area of Justice, which is based on mutual recognition and mutual trust.
Finland is convinced that EU funding plays a key role in the rule of law toolbox. The Finnish Presidency will take forward negotiations on creating a stronger link between EU funding and respect for the rule of law. Also, the new Rights and Values Fund is an important financial instrument that supports civil society organisations and promotes European rule of law culture.
Dear Committee Members,
Article 7 belongs to our Treaty-based toolbox and has been triggered, because it was necessary. Finland will take the pending procedures further. The General Affairs Council, chaired by my colleague, Minister Tuppurainen, already received a state of play of the situation concerning Poland and will have a first hearing with Hungary in September.
Fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law go hand in hand. In December, it will be ten years since the European Charter of Fundamental Rights became legally binding. The Charter is an important expression of our common values. It needs to be effectively implemented so that EU citizens can fully enjoy their rights. Work must also continue towards EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.
We must also intensify our efforts to ensure equal opportunities and to combat discrimination. I welcome the commitment of the next President of the Commission to new European anti-discrimination legislation. The Finnish Presidency will do its best in paving the way towards finally seeing results in this field.
The rule of law is also undermined by corruption. Corruption continues to be a challenge for the development of the EU, affecting all Member States. Corruption constitutes a threat to security and acts as a drag on economic growth. For these reasons, I want the Council to have a serious discussion on the ways to intensify European cooperation to fight corruption.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our common value base is necessary also for our efforts in the field of security. A comprehensive approach to ensuring security is another priority of the Finnish Presidency that I want to discuss with you.
Internal Security is a product of a chain of actions and actors. This chain must work effectively if we want to succeed in our efforts to combat cross-border crimes such as human trafficking. And we do need to succeed. We need to stop human trafficking. Well-functioning criminal judicial cooperation between the Member States is necessary because security requires an efficient chain of criminal proceedings. At the EU level, both Eurojust and the future European Public Prosecutor´s Office are important components of the criminal justice chain.
Finland is fully committed to the swift setting up of the EPPO. The Finnish Presidency will work closely with the European Parliament to appoint the European Chief Prosecutor this autumn by a common accord. It is important to settle the matter quickly.
Preventing crimes must be our primary task. But when crimes take place, our focus must be also on the victims. During Finland’s Presidency, I would like to discuss with my EU colleagues whether we could do even more together to strengthen the position of victims. Finland’s Presidency will also continue the work to prepare the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention. We encourage those Member States that have not yet ratified the Convention to do so without delay.
As regards unfinished legislative business, the Council has already adopted a position on the Commission’s proposals on electronic evidence in criminal matters, and we now await the European Parliament’s position. It is clear that the digital revolution also changes the ways crimes are committed and investigated. We need to improve access to electronic evidence. At the same time it is important to ensure a high level of data protection and respect for fundamental and human rights.
To conclude, I will once more come back to European democracy.
The European Parliament has been at the forefront of efforts to advocate the principles of transparency and good governance in European decision-making. More transparent decision-making can bring the EU closer to its citizens.
Finland’s Presidency will promote transparency of Council legislative files and open to the public strategic Council discussions. We will also publish information on all meetings of Finnish ministers and Finland’s Permanent Representative and her deputy with lobbyists.
I thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to our close cooperation during Finland’s Presidency and beyond.
I will be happy to answer any of your questions.