Justice, democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights are the essential preconditions enabling people to feel secure and free in Europe. EU must learn from the experiences of the last few months and set new priorities. EU has to ensure that the Union is better capable of responding to challenges in future by strengthening the resilience of the EU and its Member States. The pandemic has particular social and economic consequences. EU debates important areas of justice and consumer protection in times of COVID19.
In these times of crisis, it is more important than ever to strengthen democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.
Christine Lambrecht, Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection
Together with the justice ministries of all Member States, EU aims to find ways to strengthen democracy, protect freedom of expression and effectively combat hate speech on the internet. Ministers also fully support the negotiations on the EU’s accession to the European Human Rights Convention – negotiations which are due to resume as soon as the public health situation allows.
The European Commission presented a new Strategy to strengthen the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights has been legally binding.
The 2020 and 2019 Fundamental Rights Report shows that Member States lack national policies promoting awareness and implementation of the Charter. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ (FRA) findings highlight civil society organisations and National Human Rights Institutions play a key role in ensuring that the Charter is a reality in people’s lives, however these organisations are not sufficiently aware of the Charter and when it applies. The Commission works with authorities at national, local and EU level to better inform people about their fundamental rights and where to find help if their rights have been infringed.
In preparing this new strategy, the Commission carried out a Eurobarometer survey on the Charter as well as stakeholder consultations through the Charter conference 2019 and targeted questionnaires analysed by FRA. Fundamental rights cannot be taken for granted. The new Strategy confirms a renewed commitment to ensure that the Charter is applied to its full potential. As of next year, the Commission will present an annual report, which will look into how the Member States apply the Charter in a selected thematic area. In 2025, the Commission will report on the implementation of this strategy.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to further improve the resilience of European justice systems. The use of digital technology – including Artificial Intelligence – is one of the key issues here. Discussions about digitalisation and the further implementation of the European e-Justice Strategy are therefore top priorities on the German Presidency’s agenda. In this context, I will be placing special emphasis on how digitalisation can enhance access to justice.
Protection for victims of crime in Justice
As the past few months have shown, looking after the particularly vulnerable is an especially challenging task in times of crisis. Member States focus in strengthening the protection offered to victims of crime in line with the new EU Victims’ Rights Strategy.
International judicial cooperation in criminal matters
Consolidating and improving judicial cooperation in criminal matters is another priority. Cooperation in this field is currently facing major challenges, particularly with regard to cross-border judicial surrender and extradition. EU would like to see enhanced collaboration between EU Member States in times of crisis.
International cooperation in civil and commercial matters
As regards judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters, EU focus on continuing the legislative work in order to accelerate mutual legal assistance, improve crisis resilience and facilitate cross-border investment. In order to consolidate foreign policy on justice issues, EU promotes the multilateral cooperation in civil matters between the EU and third countries.
Data economy, AI and intellectual property
EU is committed to a coherent European overall strategy on the protection of intellectual property so that innovation is protected, fair access rights are secured and creativity is promoted. EU works on a Intellectual Property Action Plan, especially with regard to innovation in the medical and pharmaceutical sectors. Together with the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, EU debates how compliance with fundamental rights can be guaranteed when using Artificial Intelligence. This is important not least so that Europe can follow its own path where all digital transformation processes are structured in an inclusive and sustainable manner in full alignment with the values, fundamental rights and consumer rights of the EU.
Consumer policy in Justice
In order to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, EU needs to make European consumer policy resilient and forward-looking. As in the aftermath of the financial market crisis, private consumption will play a significant role in the recovery of the economy. Commission must therefore do everything in EU power to restore and strengthen consumer trust in the domestic market and in resilient and innovative European consumer protection.
European consumer policy focuses on three main priorities:
to establish sustainable consumption on a broad scale;
to shape the digital transformation process for the common good and for the benefit of consumers in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN Agenda 2030;
and to enforce consumer rights effectively.
In addition, online platforms need to take more responsibility for the products and services they offer. The new legal framework announced by the Commission will play an important part in this. The last few months have offered up many new examples of illegal business practices, including the unwitting purchase of counterfeit products through online platforms.
In the field of Artificial Intelligence, Europe needs to adopt its own approach – an approach underpinned by our European values and fundamental rights. EU supports the objective set out in the “White Paper on Artificial Intelligence” of having a clear legal framework which creates certainty for companies and citizens in Europe while at the same time facilitating innovative competition.