Photo: Oleg Popov (EU2018BG)
The Ministers of Justice of the EU member states met on 26 January 2018 in Sofia as part of the informal Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting. They discussed the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO); a proposal for revising the Brussels IIa Regulation, the cornerstone of justice cooperation in family matters in the EU; and artificial intelligence and robotics from a justice point of view.
During the meeting, the Kingdom of the Netherlands stated that it considers joining the EPPO in the future.
“Today, the Bulgarian Presidency sets the stage for the discussion on the establishment and effective functioning of the EPPO. I welcome the announcement of the Netherlands that they consider joining the office,” said Tsetska Tsacheva, Bulgarian Minister of Justice, who chaired the meeting. She also underlined that ensuring effective, swift and fair justice in civil and criminal cases based on mutual trust in the legal systems of the Member States and respect for the rule of law is of key importance to the Bulgarian Presidency in the Justice Area.
Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: “The European Public Prosecutors Office will be a game changer in the way we fight VAT fraud, fraud against EU funds and corruption. A very important part in the building-up phase is the recruitment of key staff of the EPPO, in particular the European Chief Prosecutor. My intention is to have the EPPO up and running by the end of 2020.”
The negotiation stage in the Council for agreement on the legal framework of the EPPO is now completed. The way in which it will start its activities and cooperate with other European investigating agencies will be defining for its effectiveness and its key role in the investigation and prosecution of crimes against the financial interests of the EU. During the informal meeting, the European Commission briefed the ministers on the planned steps towards the establishment and initial administrative management of the office. The ministers also exchanged views on the cooperation between the EPPO and other European Union bodies and institutions, in particular Eurojust, OLAF and Europol, and stressed that the establishment of the EPPO should not intervene in their administrative and functional integrity. The ministers emphasised the need to draft detailed and clear rules for cooperation with partner organisations in order to improve cooperation and avoid duplication of investigative action.
The revision of the Brussels IIa Regulation on jurisdiction, the recognition and enforcement of decisions in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility and on international child abduction (recast) is one of the priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency in the field of justice. Ministers discussed elements of the proposal related to the exercise of rights of custody, the removal of a child to another member state, hearing of the child as a condition to adjudicate the return to the parent who exercises the rights of custody, and the abolition of the exequatur procedure. Enhanced mutual trust between member states will be reflected in the removal of remaining obstacles to the free movement of decisions in line with the principle of mutual recognition.
During the working lunch, the ministers discussed aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics from a justice point of view. They agreed on the understanding that it should be explored how AI and new technologies can help access to justice and the efficiency of judicial systems as well as related legal and ethical issues. Ministers also highlighted the importance of stimulating the development of technologies serving the legal system.
At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Jourová briefed the ministers on priority issues from the EU agenda and presented a development on a code of conduct for internet service providers (ISPs) regarding the removal of hate speech online. In a brief exchange, participants in the meeting emphasised the need to strengthen the cooperation between regulators and ISPs in order to keep a secure internet environment.
The Informal Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting in Sofia on 26 January 2018 was attended by the Ministers of Justice of the EU Member States, the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, and representatives of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and Legal Affairs (JURI), Eurojust, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU.