European Affairs

The removal of internal borders between our countries has given us common responsibility for the shared external border of the Union, now grown to 25 countries. That has created an obvious need for cooperation in law enforcement among national and judicial authorities, which has been remarkably successful over the past five years. With the advent of terrorism as a major global threat, international cooperation has also become very important.

As we stepped up security to fight terrorism, we made two interesting discoveries. Firstly, nobody suggested that the solution was to reintroduce national border controls inside the European Union. Secondly, people do not object to security checks, such as being searched, taking off their shoes, opening their baggage and establishing their identity, provided the reasons are explained and the controls are conducted courteously.

It is an unfortunate fact that European countries have had considerable experience with terrorism over the years and have devised various ways to deal with it. Our policies are built on the lessons learned from those experiences by our member states, and through dialogue with major partners around the world, including, of course, the United States.

Cooperation with the United States is obviously of enormous importance, given the huge flows of trade and people across the Atlantic. Both we and our American friends very quickly realized that there was no security for either of us if we did not work together, because transportation, to take the obvious example, has an origin and a destination, and you have to do the work right at both ends.

We are constantly developing policies and, where necessary, enacting laws to deal with these challenges. In November 2004, EU leaders adopted “The Hague Program,” a five-year plan to further and improve EU efforts to regulate migration, control the Union’s external borders and fight terrorism and organized cross-border crime, while guaranteeing compliance with fundamental rights.

We also have to ensure that our member states’ legal systems work well together by providing for mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments, where necessary on the basis of mutual trust secured by common definitions and procedures. We are developing a common asylum system, strengthening measures against illegal immigration and promoting a Europe-wide debate on economic migration trends and needs.

In our new constitutional treaty, which we hope will enter into force soon, once all member states have ratified it, we have improved the efficiency of the legal system under which we operate in this area and strengthened its democratic legitimacy. The system will be more efficient when the Council of Ministers is able to decide on many of these topics by qualified majority vote. The current requirement of unanimity has frequently delayed decisions and affected their quality because of the compromises necessary to bring every country on board.

Although qualified majority voting enables decisions to be taken against the wishes of a minority if necessary, it does not usually work like that in practice. The mere possibility of a majority vote encourages member states to reach consensus more quickly because nobody likes to be in a minority and the majority does not usually want to overrule a smaller number of member states. In other areas where majority voting applies, it works very well.

Democratic legitimacy will be strengthened by giving a more important role to the European Parliament, which is sometimes not very well understood in the United States. Americans are not always aware that the Parliament is the only EU body directly elected by the peoples of the member states. Over the years it has gradually become a genuine parliament, responsible for holding the executive to account, and it is playing an increasingly important role in the legislative process.

As our system of government evolves, it is expected that more legislation will be enacted in the fields of freedom, justice and security. Reaching agreement among 25 member states on issues that are often perceived to be close to the traditional heart of state sovereignty will not be easy, and no doubt Americans will sometimes find our progress too slow. We occasionally feel the same way. But a great deal has already been achieved, and there will continue to be an intense political activity in this area, both within the European Union and in our international relations, in the years ahead.

The objectives are very simple to state and very hard to achieve.We want to close any possible security gap between Europe and America in which terrorists could hide.We must have the best possible human and technological security systems, and we must ensure that our citizens can get on with their daily lives safe from the scourges of terrorism and organized crime.

Although we have made significant progress, it is a permanent, daily struggle to keep ahead of the game. Twice-yearly meetings between senior EU and U.S. officials provide a very useful opportunity to compare notes on our respective ideas and processes, to reach agreement where we need to agree, and to understand that while we share the same objectives we sometimes prefer to work toward them in different ways.

Perhaps even more important than the official meetings are the networks of personal relationships that we have established at all levels. There is now a web of contacts across the Atlantic – via telephone, fax and email, secure when necessary, of course – so that nobody on one side is surprised by something that happens on the other. Nevertheless, there remains a great deal more to be done in our common endeavors.

Jonathan Faull is Director General for Justice, Freedom and Security at the European Commission, responsible for immigration, drug policy, border security, criminal and civil justice and fundamental rights. His previous posts at the Commission included Chief Spokesman and Director General of Press and Communication (1999-2003), Director and then Deputy Director General of Competition (1995-1999). He is Professor of Law at the Free University of Brussels.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 6, Issue number 1-2 in the Winter/Spring of 2005.