Ministers discussed justice aspects of counter-terrorism and rule of law developments in the field of justice. They also looked at the latest developments concerning the regulation on assignments of claims and the setting up of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Fight against terrorism
Following the recent attacks in France, Austria and Germany, ministers discussed the justice aspects of counter-terrorism, covering a number of issues.
On the topic of hate speech online, ministers discussed their experience at national level regarding the reporting of criminal offences related to hate crime and hate speech and possible further action. They generally agreed that the online platforms’ voluntary efforts to effectively prevent the spread of such illegal content are not enough and binding rules would be needed.
The fight against terrorism is also a fight against the hatred and contempt for humanity on the internet. Anyone who incites violence must be prosecuted more robustly and at an earlier stage throughout Europe. We need clear Europe-wide requirements on how online platforms deal with criminal hate speech. If those requirements are not met, there must be sanctions. Voluntary commitments are not enough when dealing with death threats and terrorist propaganda. It is high time that people were effectively protected against the waves of hatred.
Christine Lambrecht, German Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection
Ministers also considered whether it would be appropriate to go beyond content deletion and to provide for an obligation for online platforms to report criminal offences related to hate crime and hate speech to the competent authority if they become aware of them. The right balance, under the principles of necessity and proportionality, between these binding obligations and the freedom of speech was also highlighted by some ministers.
Ministers took stock of ongoing work on digital cooperation. The presidency highlighted a Commission study on cross-border digital criminal justice, which sets out several ways to further use digitalisation for judicial cooperation in the EU. Ministers also reiterated the importance of the e-evidence package, on which the Council adopted its negotiating position in December 2018. Negotiations with the European Parliament will start once the latter has adopted its own mandate. Several member states also expressed the need to find a way forward on the issue of data retention which takes into account the recent judgements from the European Court of Justice.
Supporting victims of terrorism and strengthening their rights is a fundamental part of the EU’s counter-terrorism policy. The presidency informed ministers about ongoing work in this field, where coordination in cases with cross-border implications still needs to be improved to facilitate immediate help for victims of attacks wherever it happens.
The presidency also presented the Council conclusions on the current challenges and the way forward regarding the European arrest warrant and extradition procedures, which were adopted on 1 December 2020.
Ministers considered the report by Eurojust and the Genocide Network on the cumulative prosecution of foreign terrorist fighters for core international crimes and terrorism-related offences. The report concludes that prosecuting terrorism offences together with core international crimes ensures the full criminal responsibility of perpetrators, results in higher sentences and delivers more justice for victims.
Rule of law
Ministers exchanged views on rule of law developments in the field of justice, following the Commission’s presentation in September of its 2020 annual rule of law report.
They shared their views on justice related aspects, developments and best practices of the rule of law, especially as regards the key elements of judicial independence, efficiency and the fight against corruption. They also expressed broad support for the creation of a discussion forum for judges as an important tool to reinforce common ground in terms of legal culture and to improve exchanges in the field of rule of law.
Assignments of claims
Ministers were informed by the presidency of the state of play on the proposal for a regulation on assignments of claims.
During the past months, significant progress has been made on a number of elements, including certain exclusions from the scope of the regulation, the definition of third-party effects of assignments of claims and the treatment of states with more than one legal system. However, further work is still needed in a number of areas, such as the general rule to be applied, other aspects related to the scope of the proposal and the treatment of assignments of claims secured by immovable property or registered assets.
Work on this proposal is expected to continue at technical level under the upcoming Portuguese presidency of the Council.
European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO)
Justice ministers were informed by the Commission about the state of play with regard to the implementation of the EPPO regulation. Work is ongoing in several areas, with the aim of having the EPPO fully established and operational as soon as possible.
In the past months progress has been made on the appointment of the European Delegated Prosecutors, as well as, in the Council, on the EPPO’s relations with third countries and with the member states not participating in the enhanced cooperation. On this last item the presidency has prepared a comprehensive report which is intended to provide an in-depth analysis of the relevant legal instruments and guidance for next steps.