Opening speech by Minister of Justice Henriksson at the Meeting of the European Judicial Network in Civil and Commercial Matters at Finlandia Hall 24 October 2019
Dear members of the European Judicial Network, Dear representatives of the European Commission, Dear ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the meeting of the European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters, held here in Helsinki, our capital.
October marks 20 years since the European Council met in the Finnish city of Tampere to launch enhanced EU cooperation in justice and home affairs. I could not be more pleased to welcome you all here, almost exactly 20 years since those commitments were made in Tampere. I am proud to note that it was in Finland where the first steps in this area were taken.
The goal set in Tampere was that people would be able to approach courts and authorities in any Member State as easily as in their own. Over the years since then, we have jointly agreed on numerous rules that safeguard citizens’ rights and improve their legal protection when living, working, moving around and building a family in the EU.
A lot has been achieved. The EU has comprehensive provisions on the determination of which courts have jurisdiction and on the mutual recognition and enforcement of decisions. We’ve come a long way towards harmonising the conflict-of-laws rules, and we’ve been able to significantly improve access to justice. In addition, we’ve developed robust tools for cross-border cooperation between national judicial authorities in matters of civil law.
In the future, digitalisation and technological advances will also play a key role in the field of justice. They can contribute to speeding up and improving access to justice. During Finland’s Presidency, we are continuing to work on reforming the regulations on the taking of evidence and service of documents, and our aim is to have the Council adopt a general approach during our Presidency.
These October dates were chosen for this meeting in part because the European Day of Justice is celebrated each year around 25 October, which is tomorrow. The European Day of Justice aims to bring justice closer to citizens, by informing them about their rights and the available tools for facilitating access to cross-border justice. It also raises awareness of EU law among legal professionals through communication and other related activities. The work of the European Judicial Network serves as a valuable tool to facilitate cross-border justice and to help legal professionals in applying EU law.
Discussions on strengthening and safeguarding the rule of law in the EU are ongoing in different forums and the topic is one of the key priorities for the Finnish Presidency. The reason for this is clear. The rule of law is the foundation of the European Union.
The EU is a union of values and a union of justice. Respect for the rule of law and other shared EU values is central for the area of freedom, security and justice, for our citizens’ rights. Judicial cooperation based on mutual recognition requires mutual trust between the Member States’ courts and judicial practitioners. Mutual trust, on the other hand, is based on the premises that our shared values are respected. The Court of Justice of the European Union has stated that the right to effective legal protection gives concrete expression to the rule of law. The responsibility for ensuring that this right is also respected in the fields covered by EU law lies, in the first place, with national courts. The trust of the EU citizens on the well-functioning judicial systems in the Member States is vital for the EU and for all democratic societies. This is also highlighted in the 2019 Justice Scoreboard. We need to strengthen the rule of law and we need to promote a common rule of law culture in the EU.
It is essential that different actors work towards this common goal. In this context, different judicial networks have an important role to play. This was also emphasized at the informal meeting of justice ministers here in Helsinki in July, where we discussed how the rule of law could be strengthened in the justice area. The role of judicial networks in promoting and exchanging ideas and best practices was underlined by the Commission in its latest communication on the rule of law.
Strengthening the rule of law and a common rule of law culture requires work at the practitioner level. Here, today, I wish to underline the importance of the work of the European Judicial Network in this regard. Your work, enhancing good judicial cooperation and mutual trust, contributes to strengthening a common rule of law culture.
Efficient implementation of EU legislation, judicial cooperation and mutual trust in each other’s judicial systems are of key importance in ensuring a truly effective single market. These are among the topics we are highlighting during our Presidency of the Council of the European Union. As said, the role of the EJN is important in strengthening mutual trust and supporting judicial cooperation in the civil justice area. The network also supports national judicial cooperation networks as important actors in the proper and harmonized application of the civil and commercial law acquis. In addition, the EJN has a role in training and awareness raising among legal professionals. The network also contributes to the development of the single market and growth.
For me, as Minister of Justice, it is important that citizens can have trust in the functioning of EU legislation. Different approaches are needed, in order for the EU law is to work well in practice. The special value of the EJN lies in its informal and dynamic way of working, which encourages colleagues to assist each other and to find solutions to specific problems. There is a lot of commitment and concrete effort in this network. I have heard from the Finnish EJN contact points about how they have received assistance from other contact points very swiftly and how this cooperation has assisted the work of Finnish judges in their cross-border cases.
The European Judicial network, having been in existence for more than 15 years, has proven to be an efficient tool in facilitating judicial cooperation between Member States. However, any network needs to keep developing. Creating and supporting the network activities at national level is one area where we can still achieve more. The network can only be successful in fulfilling its potential if the legal practitioners are aware of its existence and the tools it offers. Establishing a national network can have a major impact in this regard.
The role of the national networks has been highlighted on many occasions. Also, EU-funding opportunities have been offered for Member States to build up or to strengthen their existing national networks. It is necessary to support this work, to recognize the work the networks carry out, and to resource the work in the future.
In Finland, a national network was established in 2016 in response to the need for greater visibility, knowledge sharing and gathering of information on EU law at a national level. All key actors are represented in the Finnish national network, including the courts, the enforcement authorities, the legal aid authority and the Finnish Bar Association. Many of the members of the national network are also present here today.
Finland’s national network has been operating for three years now. After the three years of work, it was a good moment to invest into developing the network further. I am very pleased to be able to tell you that, thanks to EU funding, we currently have an ongoing project to strengthen our national network. As a result of the project, the network will be better structured and known in Finland, from south to north.
Finally, I would like to share with you a recent example of good judicial cooperation, which happened within the framework of the project. Last month, in September, members of the Finnish network, a group of judges and other legal professionals, visited Italy and met with the members of the Italian national network. The discussions were, I’m told, very fruitful. It was also interesting for those involved to learn about the procedures in the other country. When people meet and learn together, those are often crucial moments for developing and nurturing mutual trust. I hope that the tools created during the Finnish project can be utilized and exploited by other Member States as well. Even though there are differences from one Member State to another, the challenges and the need for cooperation and mutual trust are the same.
During these two days, you will be discussing the Brussels One regulation, which is one of the key regulations in the civil justice area. There will also be a panel discussion on experiences of EU civil justice and on expectations for the future. The panel will consist of Finnish practitioners, who will share their views and experiences. Those attending this meeting include judges, enforcement officers, lawyers and other experts. It is inspiring to see such a big group of experts gathered here in Finlandia Hall, devoted to the smooth functioning of EU civil justice and practical cooperation. The network is always a sum of its members, and as powerful and as effective as its members are.
Dear participants, with these words, I would like to open this meeting.
I hope that these two days in Helsinki offer you all a chance to deepen your knowledge, to get to know each other and to find solutions and share views on issues, which require joint thinking and effort. I wish you constructive discussions and interesting encounters. I look forward to finding out more about the outcomes of this meeting and the work of the network in the future.
I hope you also will have a chance to enjoy Helsinki and its autumn colours!