2.9.2011   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 259/70


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘The EU Internal Security Strategy’

2011/C 259/12

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS:

hopes that the strategy at EU level will indeed provide real added value, vis-à-vis the equivalent initiatives of individual Member States, in relation to the increasingly cross-border nature of the issue to be addressed;

points out the urgent need for internal security and public safety requirements, particularly with regard to protecting privacy, to go hand in hand, when the proposed measures are implemented, with the parallel requirement to respect fundamental rights;

proposes that the EU should also promote the possibility of setting up one-stop contracting shops involving institutional coordination at regional level, the aim being to harmonise award procedures within a given geographical area, which would also make it possible to cut the number of public bodies with contracting powers via public procedures for works, services and supplies;

supports the Commission's decision to announce forthcoming legislation to strengthen the EU legal framework on confiscation and recommends that the legislative proposal in the pipeline should specify, in preference to other possible solutions, the municipality in which the confiscated property is located as the natural recipient of the right of ownership thereof;

is pleased that provision is made for partnership with the Committee of the Regions in the planned (for this year) creation of an EU radicalisation-awareness network;

wishes to be involved in the process of reviewing the financial instruments in the home affairs and security field for the years beyond 2013 and to play a significant part in shaping the possible financing instruments.

Rapporteur

Giuseppe VARACALLI (IT/ALDE), Mayor of Gerace (RC)

Reference document

Communication from the Commission — The EU Internal Security Strategy in Action: Five steps towards a more secure Europe

COM(2010) 673 final.

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General comments

1.

notes that the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council entitled The EU Internal Security Strategy in Action (1), adopted in the context of the 2009 Stockholm Programme and the five-year work programme for justice and home affairs, contains a comprehensive strategy for internal security and sets out a proper four-year action plan;

2.

considers that developing and implementing a European internal security strategy is a challenge that, notwithstanding the diversity of roles and competences, must be faced together by the European institutions, the Member States, local and regional authorities and civil society;

3.

points out that the Commission's intervention comes at a historic moment that is particularly important to the balance of powers between the institutions of the European Union, especially following the strengthening by the Lisbon treaty of the European Parliament's powers, as a result of which the responsibilities of each institution in the area of internal security have been more clearly defined;

4.

warmly welcomes the overall thrust of the communication, which offers a detailed and precise analysis of Europe's numerous internal security issues, notwithstanding the obvious requirement for this type of document to give a broad overview;

5.

nevertheless, emphasises at the same time that the particular activities of local and regional authorities generally offer citizens a high level of security. This high standard should be further developed in the context of the rules governing established basic rights and the guarantees offered by the rule of law. Protection of privacy must be taken into particular consideration. The European Union should also consider these requirements when concluding agreements with third countries in view of the resulting implementing measures;

6.

notes that for each of the five strategic objectives there are clearly identifiable, measurable actions that are limited in number and therefore more easily achievable, and supports the methodology used, which it considers to be objectively appropriate;

7.

reaffirms its own commitment, stated in earlier opinions, to a coordinated approach to this issue from every institutional level, obviously starting with local and regional authorities, which naturally and inevitably have an interest in any security problem that occurs in a particular area;

8.

points out, in particular, that in recent years analysis of the security issue has increasingly taken on a supranational dimension due to the ever more apparent cross-border nature of many types of threats to security;

9.

therefore stresses that the security problems of individual countries cannot be isolated from a European internal security policy that also provides a coordinating momentum, whilst respecting national prerogatives, of those activities where a supranational approach has proved more effective and more appropriate;

10.

therefore hopes that the strategy at EU level will indeed provide real added value, vis-à-vis the equivalent initiatives of individual Member States, in relation to the increasingly cross-border nature of the issue to be addressed;

11.

points out that bottom-up activity involving cooperation with regional and local authorities, which represent the communities most directly impacted by criminal activity, should also be promoted as the mirror image of those activities that need to be carried out at supranational level;

12.

points out, however, that before undertaking any actions concerning the initiatives in the strategy, it will be necessary to evaluate the current legal framework and to analyse compliance with the subsidiarity principle. Such analysis should actively involve the Committee of the Regions and national and regional parliaments;

13.

points out, whilst broadly welcoming the strategy as a whole, that there appears to be generally no impact assessment of the proposed actions at this time. That is why the assessment called for above, including consultation with regional and local authorities, is necessary. The Committee of the Regions is willing to cooperate fully in the drafting phase;

14.

points out the urgent need for internal security and public safety requirements, particularly with regard to protecting privacy, to go hand in hand, when the proposed measures are implemented, with the parallel requirement to respect fundamental rights and to reinforce the procedural rights of suspects or defendants as part of the guarantee of a fair trial. This is important not least in view of the entry into force of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the forthcoming accession of the EU to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, which means that the European institutions will come under the jurisdiction of the European Court in Strasbourg;

15.

therefore emphasises its readiness to continue its cooperative relationship with the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, FRA, to better protect fundamental rights and particularly to help regional and local authorities in the difficult task of finding the right balance between improving security, protecting privacy and respecting individual and collective fundamental rights when implementing the strategy;

16.

expresses serious reservations concerning the importance of ‘a strong EU security sector’ put forward by the Commission in its communication. It is much more appropriate to emphasise the State's monopoly on the use of force. A public and effective licensing and supervisory system should be used to ensure that the legal rules governing the activities of private security undertakings and the guarantees for citizens' fundamental rights in particular are always respected. Moreover, private sector intervention should not be used to circumvent the legal tenets of the rule of law;

17.

stresses that whilst the broad thrust of the objectives and actions stated in the communication contain aspects are of interest in general terms to regional and local authorities, there are a few specific points that appear to be of more direct interest;

Administrative approach

18.

considers that, with regard to Objective 1, Action 2 (Protect the economy against criminal infiltration) seems to be particularly relevant to the work of local and regional authorities. This is all the more true of policies to engage ‘governmental and regulatory bodies responsible for granting licences, authorisations, procurement contracts or subsidies (the “administrative approach”)’;

19.

points out the importance, in that context, of the Commission providing practical assistance to the Member States by setting up ‘a network of national contact points to develop best practices’ and sponsoring ‘pilot projects on practical issues’; considers it absolutely essential, as a matter of urgency, for these initiatives to provide, formally and organically, for the direct involvement of regional and local authorities, and notes that effective steps to heighten security must inevitably include ongoing, rigorous checks in the territories themselves on how public funds are used, as these often attract the attention of organised criminals;

20.

proposes, with regard more specifically to the extremely delicate issue of awarding public contracts and grants, that the EU, whilst further and more effectively pursuing the establishment of national contact points, should also promote the possibility of setting up one-stop contracting shops involving institutional coordination at regional level. The aim here is to harmonise award procedures within a given geographical area, which would also make it possible to cut the number of public bodies with contracting powers via public procedures for works, services and supplies (2);

Confiscation of goods

21.

also considers that Action 3 under Objective 1 is even more important to Europe's internal security. This deals with the confiscation of criminal assets, which is indubitably an important avenue for combating any kind of crime right across the board, as it is proven beyond doubt that a direct attack on property acquired through illegal activities is possibly the most effective deterrent in the crime-fighting armoury;

22.

on this subject, supports the Commission's decision to announce forthcoming legislation to strengthen the EU legal framework on confiscation. Particularly significant in this context are the specific references to broadening the scope of the instrument, especially as regards third-party confiscation, extended powers of confiscation and mutual recognition between Member States of confiscation orders not based on a previous conviction: the subjective and objective extension of public powers in this area through the progressive streamlining of the implementing procedures will certainly make the fight against illicit gains more effective and tangible by turning the package of measures implemented by the institutions into a genuinely integrated system;

23.

is concerned, however, with specific reference to the mutual recognition of confiscation orders, about the state of implementation of framework decision 2006/783/JHA of the Council (3). The Commission states that the transposition of this into Member States' national laws is clearly unsatisfactory, particularly as by the end of February 2010, fifteen months after the deadline had expired, only thirteen Member States had implemented the instrument (4);

24.

supports, on this subject, the Commission's call to the Member States to implement the decision;

25.

supports the timetable for the initiatives on confiscation that the Commission proposes to launch and considers that the proposed four-year timeframe (from the current year to 2014) is an appropriate reference period for implementing the programme;

26.

considers it absolutely essential, with specific regard to the initiative to establish ‘Asset Recovery Offices’ by 2014, for local and regional authorities to be active stakeholders on the basis of uniform principles and criteria to be established at European level, right from the setup stage of these bodies, through the formal participation of their own representatives, in their establishment at both policy and operational level;

27.

strongly believes, moreover, that regional and local authorities should have sufficient scope to participate in the two information flows suggested by the Commission for 2013, i.e. the development of ‘common indicators’ for evaluating the functioning and the results of the offices, and establishing the ‘best practice guidance’ to avoid criminal groups regaining possession of confiscated goods: the Committee considers it necessary that local institutions be involved in both initiatives through a formal partnership right from their launch;

28.

recommends that the legislative proposal in the pipeline should specify, in preference to other possible solutions, the municipality in which the confiscated property is located as the natural recipient of the right of ownership thereof. This would establish a sound institutional starting point for the subsequent phase of re-using the property. The Committee recommends that this should be done for a socially useful purpose, such as giving it to charities and cooperatives, not least because local communities bear the highest cost of the activities of organised criminals and the social re-use of confiscated property has a high value in terms of compensating communities affected by this serious issue; points out the need for a sound legal basis for dealing with confiscated property, and stresses that, should further actions be undertaken with a view to reinforcing or amending the existing legislative framework, account should also be taken of the fact that local communities are seriously affected by the activities of organised criminals;

29.

points out, however, that if each item of confiscated property is to be reused, resources need to be available to make this possible in practice, since such property often becomes unusable;

Radicalisation and recruitment

30.

welcomes the fact that Action 1 (Empower communities to prevent radicalisation and recruitment) under Objective 2 (Prevent terrorism and address radicalisation and recruitment) states, among other things, that prevention ‘requires close cooperation with local authorities’. Direct interaction with regional and local authorities is therefore rightly addressed in the communication;

31.

points out that attention must be paid to the specific risks in the event of violation of fundamental rights by these measures, especially counter-terrorism measures;

32.

is therefore pleased that, in consequence, provision is made for partnership with the Committee of the Regions in the planned (for this year) ‘creation of an EU radicalisation-awareness network’, which could help share experiences, knowledge and good practices for raising awareness of the risk of radicalisation and to develop communication techniques to combat the rhetoric of terrorist groups;

33.

points out that the network's proposed composition, which includes many figures involved in various ways in combating crime, would form an excellent basis for practical and sustainable cooperation between the Committee of the Regions and the European Commission. It would also be both a permanent and informal forum for interested parties, in which they could put forward ideas to stimulate the strategic debate, and a test bed for pilot projects;

34.

consequently expresses its intention to participate actively in the launch of the proposed on-line forums and conferences within the EU, highlighting the need for the partnership to be put into practice promptly through immediate contacts between the relevant Committee and Commission bodies;

35.

also calls on the Commission to launch similar contacts to expand the partnership to the involve the ministerial conference planned for 2012 and the drafting of the handbook of actions and experiences that will be useful to support the activities of the Member States: the subsequent partnership could serve to establish an even more organic set of joint initiatives that would help give the European public an accurate picture of the heavy involvement of regional and local authorities in an issue of such great relevance at the present time;

36.

offers its support and cooperation in identifying critical infrastructure as part of efforts to prevent terrorist attacks;

Transport

37.

is greatly interested, still with reference to Objective 2, in Action 3 (Protect transport), in the context of which, as well as welcoming the subsequent development of the EU regime for aviation and maritime security, it supports plans for a more active European approach to land transport;

38.

therefore supports, with reference both to local and regional rail and to high-speed rail, the welcome proposal to establish a standing committee on land transport security. It recommends, as a matter of operational necessity, an appropriate presence – which could be flexible depending on the subject to be addressed – on the committee of regional and local authority representatives;

39.

thinks it has been proven beyond doubt that the many, familiar security problems related to rail transport have a very heavy impact on local communities' rights to mobility. For this reason, the direct involvement of representatives of local institutions in European bodies working on this subject is absolutely necessary;

40.

refers to the numerous opinions criticising the use of passenger name records and proposes that these be taken into account when the planned legislation on collection of passenger data is drafted;

Cybercrime

41.

wishes above all to take on, with reference to the actions included in Objective 3 (Raise levels of security for citizens and businesses in cyberspace), a key role in raising awareness among the public and local businesses of the ever increasing need to combat the growing threat and attacks against IT systems, while also taking account of the new methods used to commit such crimes;

42.

expresses support for the strong commitment that emerges from the communication to address the problem, focusing on the fundamental issue of the security of computer networks as an essential prerequisite for the functioning of the information society. These computer networks are largely concentrated in urban areas, as are their hubs. The Committee therefore recommends that the Commission, in cooperation with local and regional authorities, should come up with a supportive policy that monitors the security and management of computer network hubs in urban areas;

43.

believes that it can cooperate in the proposed measures to boost Europe's ability to tackle the problem, and notes the importance of the creation of a cybercrime centre by 2013 within the existing structures, working closely with the European institutions, such as CEPOL, Europol and Eurojust. The Committee could also contribute to the feasibility study into this, which is planned for this year;

44.

points out that it is also necessary to improve local skills in this area and that appropriate investment in training measures at local authority level would also be helpful;

Border management

45.

stresses the importance, with regard to Objective 4 (Strengthen security through border management), firstly, of the clear reference in the communication to the ‘spirit of solidarity’ and the ‘sharing of responsibility’ (Article 80 TFEU), which principles are essential to an effective approach to the problem; also calls for these principles to be put into practice through concrete measures to support Member States and their regions most exposed to this problem;

46.

also argues, in broad terms, the strong need to balance as far as possible the undoubted requirement to strengthen the means of combating the existing problems, which have recently been getting worse, with the parallel need to appropriately safeguard the processes of cross-border cooperation with non-EU partners: keeping in mind the complementarities of the two requirements, the Committee is committed to supporting any activity that will help increase the extent to which these are achieved;

47.

stresses the urgent need – with reference to the social dimension of ever-increasing migration – for a European immigration and asylum policy that has been coordinated with local and regional authorities and is based on respect for human rights, solidarity and responsibility; protecting the privacy of individuals who cross borders must be especially highlighted. It must, however, also be stressed that more countries will have to be required to admit more people in order to meet the demographic challenge of Europe's shrinking population and its correspondingly shrinking workforce;

48.

points out, with general reference to the package of measures proposed on the movement of persons, that these fulfil an integrated criterion for action that we support in that they aim to increase the use of new technologies for border controls and border surveillance (Eurosur system, regarding which the communication quite rightly refers to a specific legislative proposal planned for this year) and to enhance coordination between Member States through Frontex, for which the communication provides for specific action to enhance its information management capacity;

49.

stresses that even the new border security measures (e.g. body scanners) used for checks on people must be suitable and appropriate for the intended purpose and guarantee the fundamental rights of those concerned, especially human dignity, the protection of privacy and the right to freedom of movement; in light of recent incidents welcomes plans to subject all cargo to a risk analysis. These measures should be designed in such a way that the limited technical possibilities for checks can be geared towards each individual case, while ensuring that goods are transported quickly, which is important for the economy;

Crises and disasters

50.

is committed, with regard to Objective 5 (Increase Europe's resilience to crises and disasters), to supporting any initiative for a European response to crises and disasters, and considers that it can make a significant contribution in view of the skills and experience that, by their nature, the local institutions it represents possess. This may concern risk or threat assessments, organisational aspects of awareness-raising activities, or the operational phase of dealing with emergencies, as provided for in the communication;

51.

underlines in this connection its willingness to help improve coordination and the exchange of information primarily at local, regional and cross border level as regards reactor safety and protecting the population against the threat of radioactivity;

Financial resources

52.

in conclusion, considers it essential, for the reasons outlined above, that its own, indispensable involvement in the process of improving Europe's internal security must go hand in hand with an adaptation of the capacities and competences of regional and local authorities. It is therefore necessary to invest in further research and to carry out innovations in fields such as cyber security, forensics, the protection of vital infrastructure and urban security and that the European Commission promotes this in line with the increased need to address ever more specific and complex problems;

53.

therefore wishes to be involved in the process of reviewing the financial instruments in the home affairs and security field for the years beyond 2013 and to play a significant part in shaping the possible financing instruments so as to help ensure, based on local institutions' experience on the ground, that proposals for resource allocation are sensible and efficient.

Brussels, 1 July 2011.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Mercedes BRESSO


(1)  COM(2010) 673 final.

(2)  See the model of concentration of competences in the area of assigning procurement contracts established by the recent Italian law no. 136 of 13.8.2010 (‘Wide-ranging anti-mafia plan. Countermeasures in the area of public procurement’; see in particular Article 13) which, among other things, provides for the agreement of the Joint Conference (which includes representatives of local authorities) when establishing the implementing provisions of the legislation (see first indent of Article 13 mentioned above).

(3)  Council Framework Decision 2006/783/JHA of 6 October 2006 on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to confiscation orders, OJ L 328 of 24.11.2006, pp. 59-78.

(4)  COM(2010) 428 final, Report from the Commission based on Article 22 of the Council Framework Decision 2006/783/JHA of 6 October 2006 on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to confiscation orders.