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Justice for Growth and other priorities of the Justice Presidency

14.01.2013, 15:06 GMT

Writes Alan Shatter, TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence

This week I look forward to welcoming over 50 EU Justice, Home Affairs and Interior Ministers who will attend the Justice and Home Affairs Council Meeting in Dublin.  This meeting provides an excellent opportunity to present Ireland’s key priorities in the Justice and Home Affairs areas that are in the interests of stability, jobs and growth and to progress our Justice for Growth agenda.

Proposals due to be discussed at the meeting have the potential to encourage cross-border trade, promote growth, assist in labour mobility, improve competitiveness, strengthen law enforcement and enhance the rights of citizens across the EU.  

One of my key priorities is making progress on a new EU Data Protection package.  A minority of EU citizens had access to personal computers, mobile phones and internet when the Data Protection Directive was adopted in 1995.  The opposite is now the case.  Today, we voluntarily supply large amounts of personal data when purchasing goods and services on the internet.  We also actively publish and share information about ourselves on social networking sites.  These developments have in some instances led to what I refer to as a “commoditisation of human beings” whereby personal information is bundled and sold to commercial entities for financial gain. This is done without the knowledge or express permission of the individual.  

The proposals on Data Protection due for discussion this week will not only serve to protect the privacy of all European citizens, but in doing so will also increase the confidence and trust consumers have in online transactions and encourage their greater use.  More people doing more business online is good for growth throughout Europe, and particularly in Ireland, where we aim to be world leaders in the digital economy.

As part of this, we are also considering new proposals for the “right to be forgotten”.  This means that if an individual no longer wants his or her personal data to be processed – especially data supplied while he or she was a child – and there is no legitimate reason for keeping this, the data must be erased from the internet.  This new right seeks to address the possible reputational, financial and psychological risks associated with social networking and other internet based sites.  Those who fail to comply could face fines of up to €1m.

For those companies and businesses engaged in the digital economy, the Data Protection Regulation provides the prospect of a uniform regulatory regime across the European Union.  It facilitates compliance with regulatory obligations by enabling companies and businesses to register with a single data protection regulatory agency and will end the necessity for multiple registrations and licences to meet the individual and varied requirements currently prescribed in each of the individual EU Member States.  The one-stop shop provision in the Regulation will crucially reduce costs to businesses and remove barriers to trade within the European market.

As well as strengthening confidence in the digital economy, we want to drive recovery in Europe.  The debt crisis has had a devastating impact on people, jobs and business.  Between 2009 and 2011, an average of 200,000 firms per annum became insolvent in the EU, with about one-quarter of these insolvencies having a cross-border element.  An estimated 1.7 million jobs are lost due to insolvencies every year. This week we will consider the Commission’s new Insolvency proposals which were published in December, and coincided with the completion and enactment of Ireland’s domestic insolvency legislation.  Modernising the EU insolvency rules, will have very real benefits in supporting the restructuring of businesses in financial difficulties and will help to give viable businesses a second chance.  It will also provide important provision for a more informed and coherent EU approach to personal insolvency, for determining the appropriate jurisdiction in which personal bankruptcy proceeding should be processed and a mechanism for the mutual recognition of non-judicial debt settlement arrangements, such as those contained in our Personal Insolvency Act 2012.

Equally important is criminal law cooperation that ensures criminals cannot evade justice by operating across European borders.  I have been in discussions with my European Ministerial colleagues for some time concerning the seizure of assets derived from criminal activity.  Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has been an unqualified success in the seizure of criminal assets in this State.  I believe that harmonisation of European law in this area would strike a very heavy blow against organised crime to the benefit of the wider European community and during our Presidency I hope to substantially progress an EU measure on the confiscation of criminal assets.  

There is growing concern resulting both from an upsurge in racism and anti-Semitism in some European States and also from comments made by a small number of individuals in political life who are seeking to derive political benefit by racist and anti-Semitic comments.  It is of vital importance that political leaders actively uphold European values and confront this evil.  It is my objective that discussions of this growing problem at this week’s Ministerial meeting will be a step towards a more focused, coherent and coordinated approach to it by EU Member States.  

Finally, this week I will announce Ireland’s intention to hold our first annual National “Missing Persons Day” in December to raise awareness of open missing person cases. I will also put forward a proposal for an annual "European Missing Persons Day".  I believe there would be a great advantage to having an annual day which would provide an opportunity to address and highlight the question of missing persons across Europe.  Collaboration and exchange of experience and good practice at an EU level in this area is necessary and I look forward to hearing the views of my ministerial colleagues on this proposal in the coming week.

Progress on the measures identified as priorities for Ireland’s Presidency can and will make real and important differences to the lives of Irish and European citizens.  The priorities of our Presidency are at the heart of creating an area of freedom, security and justice in Europe.  Despite the challenging economic situation in Europe, I view Ireland’s EU Presidency with great optimism.  Ireland has an opportunity to help lead Europe towards better times and, in the area of Justice and Home Affairs, that is what I hope to achieve.

Alan Shatter TD is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence

The first major Ministerial meeting of Ireland’s EU Presidency takes place in Dublin Castle on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 of January. In this article Alan Shatter addresses some of the issues which are prioritised and will be a focus of the Justice Presidency.

 Find more information about the Justice and Home Affairs Informal.

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