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Crime and Crime Control in an Integrating Europe

Crime and Crime Control in an Integrating Europe

Speech given by Finnish Minister of Justice Johannes Koskinen at the European Society of Criminology Conference on 28 August 2003. Source: Finnish Government's Web Service, Helsinki.

On behalf of the Finnish Ministry of Justice I have the great pleasure to open this, the third, annual Congress of the European Society of Criminology. The theme of the Congress is "Crime and Crime Control in an Integrating Europe". First I would like to present some perspectives of the Finnish Ministry of Justice relating to this theme.

  • 1. Basic Rights and the EU Constitution

One of the central issues in the debate on the future of the EU is the status of fundamental rights and in particular how the protection of these rights can be strengthened. One of the means through which the Union aims at reinforcing the citizens` confidence in the Union`s work is by developing the EU Charter on Basic Rights into a legally binding system of norms. In case the EU adopts the Convention on Human Rights, and this is something particularly Finland has been working for, the EU will be covered by the same external Human Rights control as the member states now are.

The Charter on Basic Rights was adopted as a solemn proclamation in 2002. At that time, there were several persons feeling sceptical about the suitability of creating a legally binding norm system on basic rights within the EU. And thus the Charter remained a political declaration. In Finland, too, there were suspicions relating to the circumstance that a legally binding charter might reinforce the authority of the Union. And in addition to that, the question of the relation between the Charter and the basic rights provisions in the Finnish Constitution, and the question of the relationship between the Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights, was raised.

Since the Charter was adopted, these issues were further discussed in Europe. A conference on issues relating to enlarging the scope of basic rights within the EU was organized in Helsinki in 2002. This seminar and other similar subsequent discussions have in my opinion considerably contributed to overcoming scepticism about reinforcing the legal position of the Charter and about EU support to the Human Rights Convention. The thought according to which the Charter and its adoption were competing or somehow excluding each other was gradually abandoned. The Convention working group on basic rights was surprisingly unanimous on these issues and wanted the Convention to proceed in both areas.

In Finland, too, it was concluded that the goals of the EU Charter on Basic Rights and the adoption of the Convention on Human Rights by the EU are in part two different things. The Charter aims at reinforcing the position of basic rights in the legislative work and other activities of the Union and at clarifying the fundamental rights recognized by the Union. This is connected to the development of the Union as a political system that ever more extensively takes care of tasks previously falling within the scope of the member states and ever more extensively affecting citizens` everyday life. The comprehensive task of the Charter is to reinforce the civil dimension and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to guarantee that civil rights be protected in Community law as well.

The adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights by the EU will also promote the scope of the Union as far as Human Rights are concerned, as the Union and its bodies will be affected by the external supervisory system of the Convention after adoption. The purpose of adoption, however, partly differs from the goals of the Charter. Firstly, adoption serves as a signal to the outside world, declaring that the Union will commit itself to general European and universal Human Rights norms. Secondly, the external supervisory system of the Convention will ultimately guarantee the protection of Human Rights in the application of Community law as well. In this respect the Charter and its adoption perform partly different functions. They shall thus be considered two different methods of reinforcing the protection of Basic Rights, rather complementing than excluding each other.

In this respect I consider we can be satisfied with the final result of the Convention. I consider it particularly important that the Union will adopt the Convention on Human Rights, as this is necessary in order to guarantee that a uniform interpretation of Human Rights be secured.

  • 2. The Integration of Criminal Legislation in Europe

Another important theme in the debate on the future of the EU, from the point of view of the Ministry of Justice, is of course the development of co-operation in questions of legislation and domestic policy.

The transition to supranational co-operation, however, is not taking place without problems. As the member states transfer certain authorities in police affairs and penal co-operation to the Union, the definition of Union powers becomes a crucial question. Questions of competence are pertinent to penal issues, since these are closely linked to the sovereignty of the member states. We must have a clear conception of the powers the member states transfer to the Union and the powers that remain within the member states.

These fundamental questions play a crucial role particularly when speaking of the unification of substantive criminal law. Considering the goals of the Union, there is a certain need for harmonizing penal provisions. However, since we are dealing with the essence of the penal system in the member states, it is necessary to restrict harmonization to those questions where it can be virtually useful. Generally speaking, more ambitious harmonization may be considered justified mainly dealing with serious crime, crossing borders. A list of such offences was proposed in the conclusions from the 1999 European Council Meeting at Tampere.

There are also other tendencies in the Convention. The Commission in particular promotes a definition of Union powers enabling the Union to harmonize penal regulations in all policy areas within the Union, in case this is considered necessary in order to achieve Government goals. The problem in this proposal is that the penal authority of the Union is intended to be covering the whole scope of application of the Constitutional Treaty. The powers are not merely intended to cover serious transnational crime. Instead, harmonization might include insignificant criminal acts as well. According to the Finnish opinion, such an unclear definition of powers should not be adopted. Why is it not sufficient to the execution of Union legislation that the member states in accordance with the principle of fidelity are obliged to guarantee effective sanctions? If the purpose is to guarantee that serious international offences, as for instance environmental offences, are to be included in penal harmonization in some particular policy areas, the Union powers relating to these offences are to be confirmed in the Constitutional Treaty.

  • 3. In Conclusion

A crucial matter for penal policy decision-making is that decisions shall be based on facts, reliable research, and that decision-makers shall be constantly interacting with experts and practical workers in the field. The fruitful interaction between the Finnish Ministry of Justice and the scientific community is, among other things, reflected in the fact that about half of the Finnish lecturers at this Congress are working in scientific research or other fields of the Ministry of Justice. I hope the debates at the seminar will be productive and rewarding. However, they hardly will be unanimous, as scientific debate and politics never are.

 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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