April 15th, 2012 • SP-Euro-MP Dennis de Jong describes himself as ‘delighted’ by the near-unanimous support for his report ‘Limits to European Criminal Law’ considered last week in the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. De Jong: ‘In an increasing number of policy areas the European Commission is adding criminal law provisions to its proposals, for example in relation to the environment, or dishonest trade practices. This creates the danger of a haphazard approach in which separate bits of criminal law are created which fail to correspond with each other. My report establishes clear boundaries, introducing criteria in order to establish whether something can indeed be enforced by means of the criminal law, or whether a less heavy-handed means can be employed. It also includes a strict test to determine whether it should be dealt with via European regulation. Not everything in the area of criminal law qualifies. Lastly the report provides for measures to maintain the cohesion of different criminal law provisions.’
According to De Jong the report has arrived not a day too soon, as he explains. “With the Lisbon Treaty coming into force, Brussels has gained broader powers in this area. Last year the Commission itself brought out a report which includes such general criteria that any aspect of the criminal law could be harmonized. That’s dangerous, because it opens the door to overhasty harmonization, for example if the media happens to be giving a lot of attention to a certain kind of offence. Because my report contains demands for hard evidence of the added value of European regulation before we can move to any form of harmonization, this danger is now strongly restricted. In the case of transfrontier crime, such as for instance human trafficking, a European approach is clearly called for. But there is absolutely no reason why the degree of punishment in cases of theft or homicide should be harmonized. Such matters can best be regulated by the member states themselves.’
In addition to these elements, the report calls for the establishment of a working group in which the Parliament, Commission and Council would draw up proposals for common rules. This would not only avoid overhasty harmonization, but would also guarantee the quality of European regulation. Now that the report has won the support of virtually the entire Parliament, it can be assumed that the other European institutions will agree to the formulation of common rules. ‘I have had positive reaction from COREPER, the Council secretariat,’ says De Jong. ‘This support is important, because if the Parliament and Council agree on a line, the Commission can do nothing about it.’ In the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, forty nine of fifty-three members voted in favour. Of the Dutch parties, only the hard right PVV voted against. ‘De PVV would evidently prefer to conduct only symbolic politics and isn’t really interested in solutions, such as those contained in my report, which for example would guarantee that out unique policies on euthanasia and abortion would be protected against any attempt at European regulation,” says De Jong. The report is expected to be definitively approved at the plenary meeting of the European Parliament on 22nd May.