Strengthening fundamental values and fundamental rights

The protection of our shared values, individual rights and freedoms is one of the hallmarks of the European Union. The rule of law is the fundamental prerequisite for the protection of the other values. It is essential for the EU to function. During our Presidency, we will therefore work intensively to strengthen fundamental values and particularly to promote a common, cooperative and constructive approach to dealing with the issue of the rule of law. On the basis of the Commission’s first Annual Rule of Law Report covering all Member States, we want to conduct a political rule-of-law dialogue on an equal footing in the Council with the participation of all Member States. This will take the form of two discussions: an annual one on the report as a whole and its horizontal aspects and a half-yearly one on the first country-specific chapters of the report, so that all Member States in turn will be covered. Our goal is to foster a better understanding of the situation in each Member State, identify risks at an early stage and to be in a position to offer reciprocal support.

This kind of dialogue has to be complementary to other mechanisms. Compliance with rule-of-law standards in the EU and its Member States is also a basic prerequisite for the correct use of funding from the EU budget. We therefore support the Commission’s proposal to make EU budgetary funding conditional on respect for rule-of-law standards in the Member States.

For us, it is also clear that where Member States have deficits as regards the rule of law, the mechanisms envisaged in the European treaties must be resolutely employed. That applies both to proceedings in accordance with Art. 7 of the Treaty on European Union and to proceedings before the European Court of Justice.

We will continue to work towards the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights – as soon as the situation with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic allows, negotiations with the Council of Europe on accession should be urgently resumed.

We intend to call for the democratisation of the internet and the strengthening of the resilience of societies in dealing with false and misleading information on line. We are also placing a special focus on fighting hate crime and racism. In order to take a decisive stand against all forms of antisemitism, we are aiming for structured dialogue at European level, particularly with regard to strategies and structures for a holistic approach to combating and recording antisemitic incidents. We are determined to tackle anti-Gypsyism and further develop the EU framework for national strategies. In this context, we will work to implement Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of 28 November 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. Culture and media play a central role in communicating our European identity, our history and our values. We wish to safeguard their diversity and freedom, inter alia by continuing the Creative Europe programme. We want to address how to maintain a diverse media landscape even in times of crisis within the framework of Council Conclusions. We intend to examine how we can provide even more effective support to the cultural sector, which has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. We plan to systematically implement the EU strategic approach to international cultural relations.

Strengthening security for our citizens

We want to improve cross-border cooperation between our police authorities through a European police partnership. This should allow police officers in the European Union to have access to the necessary information from other Member States. We also want to improve cooperation between the police, customs and the judiciary.

We plan to strengthen judicial cooperation on combating cross-border crime, for example with regard to the gathering of electronic evidence across borders. The COVID-19 pandemic is posing major challenges to international cooperation on criminal matters, particularly in connection with extradition and rendition. Coordination mechanisms for times of crisis are to be used to overcome these challenges.

We intend to expand the various instruments for judicial cooperation in civil matters. Crisis-resilient judicial cooperation on civil matters in the EU is essential not only for citizens, authorities and courts, but also for business and SMEs in particular. We will continue the work that has already begun in this area. Fighting international terrorism is still one of the major challenges in Europe. In a Europe of open borders, we need to guarantee a reliable and rapid flow of information. To further optimise this, we are pressing for a common analysis of the various national personal risk assessment systems and national threat lists. We also support the rapid adoption of the regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online.

Alongside Islamist terrorism, we are placing a particular focus on right-wing terrorism and violent right-wing extremism and to this end plan to investigate the extent of EU-wide online networking in this context.

We want to strengthen the capability of Europol to support the operative work of the national security forces in the fight against cross-border crime, terrorist and extremist threats and to expand Europol as the central agency for the European police so that Europol is able to perform its mandate for analysis and information exchange to the full.

To further bolster security in cyberspace, we are striving to encourage closer cooperation between the Member States in the area of network and information security, particularly with regard to the protection of critical infrastructure and other enterprises in the public interest. To achieve this, we intend not least to work to ensure that all devices available on the market have a standard minimum level of IT security.

Updating European migration and asylum policy

Migration and how we deal with refugees are issues on which we in the European Union have to cooperate if we are to be able to find long-term solutions. We are guided in this task by our European values, rule-of-law and humanitarian standards.

Ambitious reform of the Common European Asylum System is needed in order to create a fair, operational, efficient and crisis-proof system. Based on the Commission’s proposals, we are pushing for a reform that updates the regulations on responsibilities and solidarity, complies with humanitarian standards, avoids overburdening individual Member States by ensuring the just distribution of those seeking protection according to a fair responsibility-sharing regime and effectively tackles secondary migration. We want to minimise the creation of false incentives among the Member States and for those seeking protection and ensure that the system works in practice. The rights of those seeking and those entitled to protection must be observed and quick decisions made on who actually needs protection in an EU Member State. Among other things, we want to introduce mandatory procedures on the EU’s external borders in order to be able to categorise and assess asylum applications in preliminary proceedings at an early stage and to refuse entry into the EU where it is evident that no need for protection exists. At the same time, we want to strengthen and expand the European Union’s capacities for resettlement.

A functioning and crisis-proof European asylum system also requires an efficient mechanism for the effective voluntary repatriation and long-term reintegration of those persons who cannot be granted protection. Furthermore, we want to develop and implement common standards for cooperation in the area of repatriation and effective procedures for the efficient and humane repatriation of those required to leave, and in this connection we plan above all to drive forward the negotiations on reformulating the return directive. Voluntary repatriation should be given priority here.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting refugees and migrants, as vulnerable individuals, particularly severely. That makes the expansion of our partner-based cooperation with countries of origin, receiving and transit states even more urgent. To this end we are pursuing a comprehensive approach to mitigate the causes of displacement and irregular migration and to stabilise regions of origin and transit and receiving countries. We want to expand our capacity to analyse the European migration situation in order to create effective early-warning mechanisms. The goal of our cooperation in a spirit of partnership is to ensure that refugees worldwide are protected through a more equitable distribution of international responsibility and to facilitate lasting solutions for refugees and returnees. We are also striving to more effectively dovetail displacement and migration policy with other policy areas (coherent approach).

To tackle irregular migration and successfully combat people smuggling, we also need effective protection for our external borders. To this end rapid implementation of the new Frontex mandate is vital.

The Schengen system is an indispensable pillar of European cooperation and integration. This system without internal border controls can only work if our citizens’ security and controlled management of immigration are guaranteed. We will work to further improve cooperation between the security, border protection and migration authorities of the EU Member States, even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and to develop additional intelligent measures. Europe needs better legal migration opportunities. To tackle the shortage of skilled workers, legal migration opportunities for workers from third countries should be used and accessed more effectively – not least through partnership-based approaches.

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