EU’s Stockholm Programme to ‘bolster individual privacy rights’

As European Union ministers gather in Stockholm on Wednesday Swedish ministers Beatrice Ask and Tobias Billström explain the Stockholm Programme, which outlines the EU’s efforts to promote cross-border cooperation in the areas of justice, home affairs, and migration over the next five years.

Today we are receiving the EU ministers for justice, home affairs and migration in Stockholm for discussions tomorrow and on Friday on how future cooperation in the area of justice and home affairs will be organized. EU cooperation in this area gained momentum ten years ago. Since then the work has been based on two five-year programmes.

This year it will be time to adopt guidelines for the next five years – what is known as the Stockholm Programme. The most important discussions on this will be held in the next couple of days in Stockholm. The ambition is for the conclusions to be approved by the EU Heads of State and Government in December. If we succeed in this, we will have provided the roadmap for a safer and more open Europe.

The fight against cross-border crime requires international cooperation. Our police and public prosecution services must be better at helping each other in major investigations involving several countries. They have Europol and Eurojust to assist them but both these agencies could be more effective.

Successful law enforcement is based on facts and expertise. The exchange of information between countries’ law enforcement agencies must be improved. We want to draw up a long-term perspective for information exchange among Member States. This should define the cases in which information can be exchanged, how it can be used and how long it can be stored.

Cooperation in the field must improve. Police and public prosecution services as well as judges from different countries in Europe need to benefit more from each others’ experience and gain more understanding of each other. One exciting and tangible proposal is for one third of the police services and half of the public prosecutors and judges in Europe to take part in some form of course or exchange programme in another EU country over the next five years.

We are working towards the EU putting a clearer focus on the individual. It is our hope that the rights and personal integrity of the individual in the EU will be strengthened through the Stockholm Programme. The EU is to be an area in which fundamental rights are protected in a consistent manner, and where the focus is on respect for the individual.

The right to respect for privacy must be guaranteed regardless of national borders, particularly with regard to the protection of personal data. A comprehensive and effective system for the protection of personal data is needed in the EU. The rights of individuals in criminal cases, such as their right to interpretation and translation, need to be strengthened. The rights of victims of crime also need to be developed. People who have been the victims of crime abroad often need better support and information than that frequently offered today. We also want to create mechanisms to provide easier access to justice for individuals, so that everyone is able to exercise their rights anywhere in the Union.

Another important component of the Stockholm Programme is about continued efforts to build up the EU’s common asylum system. A better balance is needed between security-enhancing measures like strengthened border controls, and individual rights, such as the right to legally secure, individual reviews of asylum applications. The common asylum system must be characterized by solidarity both between the Member States and with the individual asylum seeker and the non-EU countries that are currently under great pressure from flows of refugees.

An asylum seeker should be able to know that the treatment of his or her asylum application will be uniform regardless of the Member State receiving it. It is therefore important that the Member States implement the common regulatory framework that we have already agreed on. Ensuring that this happens is an important part of the Programme we are discussing. Better conditions for greater practical cooperation between Member States is another important aspect of the Programme, particularly with regard to the exchange of experience and knowledge.

There are those who wonder whether it is possible to agree on these issues at present. In our view, it is particularly important in times of economic crisis and recession to stand up for openness vis-à-vis the rest of the world and not to succumb to protectionist tendencies. Europe has become rich through its openness and free trade, but also thanks to the free movement of people.

Safeguarding these fundamental principles, also in the Stockholm Programme, is essential. Migration that is effectively handled can be positive for countries of origin, receiving countries and migrants alike. Migrants coming to the EU to work contribute to prosperity and growth at the same time as they realize their own dreams and life projects. Countries of origin benefit from the funds that are sent home and from the transfer of knowledge, both while the migrants are working in the EU and when they return to their countries of origin. The EU has an ageing population and therefore needs a policy that meets this challenge, to which labour migration may be one of the solutions.

When our ministerial colleagues leave Stockholm on Friday we hope that we will have taken further steps towards a more secure and open Europe. Our work is based on a citizen’s perspective which places focus on the individual. We will achieve this by effectively fighting organized crime, by safeguarding the rights of the individual and by taking responsibility for those coming to Europe in a spirit of solidarity.

Beatrice Ask is Sweden’s current Minister for Justice. Tobias Billström serves as Minister for Migration and Asylum. Both are members of the Moderate Party.

This article was originally published in Swedish in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper on July 15th, 2009. It is reprinted here in English with permission from the Government Offices of Sweden.

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Sweden set for tougher laws against spying

The Swedish government wants to make it easier for police and prosecutors to combat spying against refugees in Sweden and against the country as a whole.

Sweden set for tougher laws against spying

In addition, such crimes will be subject to stiffer penalties, according to a bill expected to be presented by the government on Thursday.

The proposal includes a wider definition of both crimes, which are currently difficult to prosecute.

The minimum sentence for spying on refugees will be increased from simple fines to prison time.

The definition of spying on refugees will also be expanded to “unauthorized intelligence activity against a person”, according to the proposal, and is meant to address cases in which foreign powers attempt to spy on regime critics who have fled in Sweden.

Current legislation stipulates that the spying must take place in secret, but now the government also wants to cover cases in which information gathering takes place openly and is often followed by threats.

“This is unsavoury activity that we must take very seriously. Many feel that authorities in their previous home countries are trying to put pressure on them and keeping tabs on what they do. Considering that many refugees have relatives back in their home countries, things can go quite badly,” Justice Minister Beatrice Ask told the TT news agency.

Iran, China, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Eritrea are among the countries that are sometimes accused of spying on refugees in Sweden, but very few cases ever make it to court.

The proposed law will also broaden the definition of unauthorized intelligence activity directed against Sweden.

“We’re widening what can be criminalized and it’s directed toward activities that one can compare with the first stage of spying,” said Ask.

The new definition targets the secret gathering of information and scraps a current requirement that the purpose of the information gathering must also be proven.

“This has been sought after for a long time by the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) and others who investigate these types of crimes. They think it’s been too hard to bring forth evidence against the perpetrators,” said Ask.

Penalties for spying against Sweden will also tougher according to the new bill, to between six months and two years in prison, or four years of the crime is considered aggravated.

Stronger sentences makes it easier for investigators to have suspects held on remand or get authorization for telephone wiretapping and other “secret coercive measures”.

TT/The Local/dl

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