Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, Charalampos Athanasiou and Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection, Vassilis Kikilias chaired, on 25 June, in Athens, an EU–US Ministerial meeting on Justice and Home affairs (JHA). A number of issues critical to the European Union and the United States were discussed, such as data protection, migration, terrorism and judicial cooperation.
The meeting was attended by US Attorney General, Eric Holder, US Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström and Director-General for Justice at the European Commission, Françoise Le Bail.
Data Protection was one of the key issues of the day. The discussion provided for an opportunity to review the progress of negotiations on the data protection Umbrella Agreement. The US announced their intention to seek legislative action giving European citizens the right to judicial redress in the US, in case of wrongful disclosure of their data. “We welcome the announcement on judicial redress and consider it a crucial step to promote cooperation. The EU remains eager to secure an Umbrella Agreement, making for increased transparency and a substantive response to citizens' concerns on both sides of the Atlantic”, Minister Athanasiou stressed. On the data protection package in the EU, Mr Athanasiou noted: “The reform is aimed at securing concrete benefits and reassurance measures for European citizens and businesses, while ensuring equal protection for EU data inside as well as outside of EU borders”.
During the meeting, the consequences of the European Court of Justice judgment invalidating the data retention Directive 2006/24/EC were also explored. “This judgment has caused a lot of concerns throughout Member States. We will have to look carefully at the question of mass data collection in relation to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the position of the ECJ”, Minister Athanasiou stressed.
In the area of mobility, migration and border security, EU-US came to the conclusion that the systematic contacts will remain necessary to manage migratory flows, as well as to coordinate strategies to balance migration and development in regions of high priority for both the US and the EU. EU-USA also agreed that the increase in mobility to be expected following the Free Trade Agreement is a key topic to be considered in the Platform as well.
Regarding the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), the special significance of the inclusion of all EU Member States in the Programme was recognized. Also, EU suggested that the US, the Commission and the forthcoming Presidency should define the modalities of such a VWP – Action Plan. “We remain focused on having all remaining EU Member States included in the VWP. We are very willing to deepen our cooperation with you on this critical subject”, Minister of Public Order and Citizen Kikilias stressed.
Judicial cooperation in criminal and civil matters was also a topic of discussion. Special focus was given to the effective implementation of the Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement (MLA Agreement). “We very much value dialogue and practical cooperation on these matters”, Minister Athanasiou said.
The strengthening of law enforcement cooperation under the Passenger Name Records (PNR) Agreement on the processing and transfer of passenger name records to the US Department of Homeland Security was also discussed. “The PNR Agreement is one of the cornerstones of the EU-US security cooperation. The EU is eager to pursue its cooperation with the US under this framework, satisfying at the same time both parties' standards on privacy and the rule of law”, Mr Athanasiou stressed.
During the meeting, both sides agreed that countering violent extremism, preventing the radicalisation and recruitment of terrorists is more urgent than ever. It was recognized that the Revised R&R Strategy's update has special significance in relation to the phenomenon of foreign fighters. Based on the work of the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, the JHA Council discussed the issue extensively. “We are eager to deepen our cooperation with the U.S., through the strengthening of our dialogue and the enhancement of our information-sharing on this multifaceted problem”, Minister Kikilias underlined.
Both sides discussed the dimension of the global organized crime. Special focus was given to the developing creative frameworks of action against transnational organised crime. Minister Kikilias stressed that the creation of a legal basis in the light of promotion of democratic principles and relentless defence of human rights is the foundation of any successful strategy on organized crime.
Another important issue discussed was strengthening the EU-US dialogue on victims’ rights and disability. “The EU is determined to enhance its protection of vulnerable persons in the short and long run. We will continue to exchange best practices in this area with the US”, Mr Athanasiou said. Regarding disability, ways to deepen the cooperation with the US were explored. “As we seek to drive forward the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), possible mismatches in disability standards should be addressed proactively”, Minister Athanasiou underlined.
Both sides referred to the joint efforts in the areas of cyber security and fighting cybercrime. At the forefront of the discussion were the findings of the EU-US Working Group on Cybersecurity and Cybercrime and the so called “Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online”. “The Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online is our most powerful instrument to date to bring together decision-makers around the globe on this issue. We are committed to enhance mutual cooperation”, Mr Athanasiou stated.
Last, but not least, the incoming Italian Presidency of the Council, represented by Minister of Justice, Andrea Orlando, and Deputy Interior Minister, Filippo Bubbico, listed its priorities in the fields of Justice and Home Affairs for the coming semester.