I thank the committee for taking this motion today. It is quite a positive motion. I thank the members of the committee for making time available today to discuss this motion. I am pleased to bring this positive initiative on the part of the Department of Justice. As the members are aware, this motion concerns an opt-in by Ireland to a regulation establishing the new EU justice programme, which will run from 2021 to 2027.
As part of the new multi-annual financial framework, MFF, for 2021 to 2027, the European Commission published a proposal for a regulation establishing a new justice programme on 30 May 2018. The regulation was formally adopted by the Council and the Parliament on 27 April 2021 and entered into force on 5 May 2021.
The previous justice programme, in which Ireland participated, ran from 2014 to 2020. The objectives of the earlier programme included the promotion of judicial co-operation in civil matters and criminal matters, judicial training, effective access to justice in Europe and initiatives in the field of drugs policy.
The regulation lays down the objectives of the justice programme, its budgets, the forms of EU funding and the rules for providing such funding. It also repeals regulation 1382/2013, which established the previous justice programme for the period 2014 to 2020.
Negotiations on this measure commenced in July 2018, with provisional agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council in March 2019. However, the budgetary aspects of the programme were subject to the overall agreement on the MFF package and, as a result, the regulation was not formally adopted until 27 April 2021.
EU funding under this new programme is aimed at contributing to the further development of a European area of justice based on the rule of law, mutual recognition and mutual trust. It is evident from the objectives of this programme that there is an increased emphasis on the rule of law. The regulation contains explicit references to a "European area of justice based on the rule of law", and to the promotion of a "rule of law culture". The regulation also states "Funding activities should also contribute to a common understanding of the Union's values and the rule of law".
I will briefly describe the main features of the justice programme. The programme has the general objective of contributing to the further development of a European area of justice based on the rule of law, on mutual recognition and mutual trust. This overall objective is supplemented by the three following specific objectives, namely, to facilitate and support judicial co-operation in civil and criminal matters and to promote the rule of law including by supporting the efforts to improve the effectiveness of national justice systems and the enforcement of decision; to support and promote judicial training with a view to fostering a common legal, judicial and rule of law culture; and to facilitate effective access to justice for all and effective redress, including by electronic means, by promoting efficient civil and criminal procedures and by promoting and supporting the rights of victims of crime, as well as the procedural rights of suspects and accused persons in criminal proceedings.
The objectives of this EU programme align well with the Government’s commitments in the programme for Government to implement reforms to facilitate equal access to justice and to strength victims' rights and supports. The programme supports mainly activities for the Judiciary and judicial staff, by their representative bodies, public authorities and training bodies. It is also open to academic or research institutes and civil society organisations that contribute to the development of a European area of justice.
The programme will have a total budget of approximately €300 million over its lifetime. The priorities of the programme will be set out in an annual work programme on the initiative of the Commission. This programme is under the direct management of the European Commission, meaning that the Commission is directly responsible for all steps in its implementation. This includes launching the calls for proposals, evaluating submitted proposals, monitoring project implementation, assessing the results and making the payments. The first call for proposals took place earlier this year in March. Unfortunately, as Ireland had not opted in to the regulation at that stage, we were unable to benefit from this round.
This regulation provides a streamlined framework for EU funding of central and national initiatives for the period 2021 to 2027. The regulation does not present any fundamental policy difficulties for Ireland and the Office of the Attorney General has advised that it sees no legal impediment to opting into the measure.
The purpose of the justice programme is to support the further development of an EU area of justice based on the EU’s values, the rule of law, and mutual recognition and trust. It will facilitate access to justice and promote judicial co-operation in civil and criminal matters, as well as the effectiveness of national justice systems.
I am strongly of the view that Ireland should participate in the application of this measure. In doing so, Ireland will be in a position to benefit from financial assistance in pursuit of the various forms of justice and home affairs, JHA, co-operation to which the measure relates.
I hope that the committee can support the exercise of Ireland’s opt-ins in respect of this regulation.