Hoorzitting Eurocommissaris Jacques Barrot vanwege diens nieuwe verantwoordelijkheid voor justitie (en)
European Commission Vice-president Jacques Barrot faced a hearing at the European Parliament on Monday. It was held because Mr Barrot, previously responsible for transport, has been allocated the portfolio for justice, freedom and security. The outcome will be considered on Tuesday by the Conference of Presidents, which will then pass the baton to the full Parliament on Wednesday.
According to Mr Barrot, the failure of the referendum in Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty merely "postpones" the increase in the Parliament's powers. Until that happens, the Union must "remain a model" by respecting "the triangle formed by freedom, security and justice".
The Commissioner then set out his priorities, which include fighting discrimination and the protection of data. He also stressed his commitment to "persuading the United States to allow all citizens of the Union to travel to that country without a visa".
Mr Barrot also proposed the creation of a rapid response system for child abductions and an initiative to protect minors in divorce cases.
As regards security, Jacques Barrot said he wished to work towards the mutual recognition of decisions taken by courts of Member States and towards the creation of a European system of information on criminal records.
Lastly, on immigration, the Commissioner was in favour of integrating legal immigrants while tightening up measures against illegal immigration and external border controls, following on from action taken by his predecessor.
Political group speakers
Manfred Weber (EPP-ED, DE) quizzed the Commissioner about the future of the Lisbon Treaty following the Irish "no". Mr Barrot believed that "we must allow our Irish compatriots time to reflect and await the European Council". He sought to "learn lessons from this new `no' and place more emphasis on a practical Europe, one that appeals to the citizen". On the possible use of a "passerelle" clause [allowing some policy areas to come under co-decision, following a vote by the European Council], he said "the Commission could take an initiative, although the European Council must agree unanimously. That cannot be ruled out but it is hard to achieve".
On behalf of the PES group, Claudio Fava (IT) asked "can enhanced cooperation be envisaged in JHA matters following the Irish `no'?" "We have thought of that" in connection with harmonising matrimonial law, was Mr Barrot's reply. This solution "would enable a way out to be found if the delays (caused by the `no' vote) prove too long", he said, adding "don't assume the progress made at Lisbon will be forgotten."
To a question by Kathalijne Buitenweg (Greens/EFA, NL) on the future horizontal directive on discrimination, Mr Barrot said the text would be presented soon and he called for "an alliance between the Commission and Parliament" on this matter. The Council must agree unanimously.
Speaking for her group, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann (GUE/NGL, DE) was vexed that one member of the Commission had claimed "not to have read the Treaty". She asked "How can the Commission defend the treaties if it doesn't read them?" While acknowledging that this remark had been unwise, Mr Barrot stressed that a referendum was also an inappropriate way of ratifying a treaty.
Derek Clark (IND/DEM, UK) queried the Commissioner's past, raising questions of financial wrongdoing: "Is this not a most untimely and inappropriate appointment?", he asked. Jacques Barrot answered that the Commission's legal service had cleared him of any suspicion.
Kinga Gál (EPP-ED, HU) wondered what impact the Irish "no" was going to have on minorities and Michael Cashman (PES, UK) called for more action by the Commission on this front. Replying, Mr Barrot said "even without Lisbon, we can advance": if the EU cannot act for minorities in the collective sense, it can protect individual members of minorities. He added that the EU Fundamental Rights Agency was already working on this matter.
Martine Roure (PES, FR) was concerned about the framework decision on fighting racism and xenophobia, which has not yet been adopted. The Commissioner said he had "berated ministers at the last Council about this, as it is unacceptable that this text should remain in the pending tray".
Sophie In `t Veld (ALDE, NL), raised the issue of Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement with the United States, saying she was disappointed that the EU-US high level working group had "snubbed" the EP. Mr Barrot stressed his willingness to work with the EP Civil Liberties Committee on this issue, where a number of disagreements remain with the US, "whose processing of the data provides no guarantee of independence". By contrast, unless care is taken the risk in Europe is fragmentation, with Member States adopting "separate PNR agreements" with all the consequences that would entail for air traffic.
On the question of protecting children, a matter raised by Roberta Angelilli (UEN, IT), and the strategy adopted by Parliament in January, Mr Barrot said this was "among his priorities" and he announced that new legislation would be put forward to fight the sexual exploitation of children.
Carlos Coelho (EPP-ED, PT) opened the third topic, by speaking of the transition from the SIS-I system to SIS-II. "The EP must be involved in the negotiations on the transitional period" regarding data protection and other matters, he said.
Javier Moreno Sanchez (PES, ES) asked whether the Frontex agency might soon have regional offices and its own material resources. Mr Barrot said he hoped to "deploy the necessary resources" to achieve that and to do something about the legal base of Frontex so it could "intervene in operations that third countries would like to carry out".
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (ALDE, NL) asked "When will we have a Commission proposal on crossing frontiers?" Mr Barrot revealed that the Commission is looking into the matter, with feasibility studies on electronic travel permits. The Commission vice-president saw in this "the beginnings of a complete system" but he thought that it was "rather soon to say that visas are obsolete!"
"Visa policy" is "not dead" but has been made easier, with lower visa costs, was Mr Barrot's reply to a question by Henrik Lax (ALDE, FI). Russia and Ukraine were already benefiting from this fact but "this cannot be done without conditions", including certain implications for human rights.
As to visa exemptions, Mr Barrot said he had a "mandate" to negotiate with the United States so that all European citizens could benefit from the visa waiver programme, although he stressed that this "will not be done at any cost".
Giusto Catania (GUE/NGL, IT) spoke of today's "immigration toll" in Europe: 140 people dead in the Mediterranean on 16 June, a return directive that provided for 18 months of detention and Frontex that did not rescue refugees at sea. Mr Barrot replied "Frontex's remit is to coordinate national [surveillance] teams. It cannot be held responsible for these tragedies. The return directive could be tidied up but overall it contains a number of improvements".
Roberta Angelilli (UEN, IT) also referred to the "immigration pact" due to be presented by the French presidency and proposed a "European code for the integration of legal immigrants". Jacques Barrot said he would like "to have indicators on the integration policies conducted in different Member States" and announced that a paper would be produced on the subject.
Turning to asylum policy, Urszula Gacek (EPP-ED, PL) asked how the Dublin II system could be overhauled "to share the burden better between Member States at the centre and those at the periphery". Mr Barrot stated that he would announce plans to revise the Dublin system "to make it more efficient and more fair" so as to move towards "a common European asylum system".
Strengthening the European legal area
Manuel Medina Ortega (PES, ES), a member of the Legal Affairs Committee, said that citizens did not seem to be well informed about developments in civil law. To this Mr Barrot replied "Things must be explained in concrete, simple terms. But the Member States must take the trouble to explain that this or that form of progress bears a European stamp".
Plans for "e-justice" are likely to create disparities between citizens. Diana Wallis (ALDE, UK) wondered if the EU would have a standardised approach. Mr Barrot felt this was a good point: care was needed in case the equipment did not keep pace.
Regarding another consequence of the Irish "no", in reply to Ioannis Varvitsiotis (EPP-ED, EL), who called for a European criminal law, Mr Barrot said "Lisbon would have helped us! We'll need time to get there now".
"Only Europol can enlighten us about the scale of forced prostitution but I will propose that a related framework decision be revised". Anna Záborská (EPP-ED, SK) believed there was a link between this problem and the access that young people had to pornography.
Stavros Lambrinidis (PES, EL) was concerned about the lack of sanctions when private enterprises misused personal data. The Commissioner said he would like to expand the existing directive in this field. Turning to police cooperation, Agustín Díaz de Mera (EPP-ED, ES) asked when the Union might have "a Community police agency without immunity for its staff" so as to "build trust" between Member States. Mr Barrot replied that "we are going to turn Europol into a real agency, financed from Community funds, and Parliament will exercise its full powers of scrutiny" over its activities.
Chair, Civil Liberties Committee : Gérard Deprez (ALDE, BE)
Chair, Legal Affairs Committee : Giuseppe Gargani (EPP-ED, IT)
This hearing took place before the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, with the participation of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Womens' Rights and Gender Equality.