Area of freedom, security and justice

The Treaty of Lisbon intends to reinforce the establishment of a European common area within which persons move freely and benefit from effective legal protection. The creation of such an area has implications for areas in which European citizens have high expectations, such as immigration and the fight against organised crime and terrorism. These issues have a significant cross-border dimension and therefore require effective cooperation at European level.

The Treaty of Lisbon divides the themes related to the area of freedom, security and justice into four fields:

policies related to border control, asylum and immigration;
judicial cooperation in civil matters;
judicial cooperation in criminal matters;
police cooperation.

Matters relating to criminal judicial cooperation and police cooperation were previously covered by the 3rd pillar of the European Union (EU), governed by intergovernmental cooperation. Under the framework of the 3rd pillar, European institutions did not have any competences and could therefore not adopt regulations or directives. The Treaty of Lisbon puts an end to this distinction and henceforth enables the EU to intervene in all matters related to the area of freedom, security and justice.


The Treaty of Lisbon attributes new competences to the European institutions, which can henceforth adopt measures with a view to:

establishing common management of the EU’s external borders; in particular through the strengthening of the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders, known as Frontex;
creating a common European asylum system; such a system will be based on a uniform European status and common procedures for the granting and withdrawing of asylum;
establishing rules, conditions and rights in relation to legal immigration.

Civil Cooperation


The Treaty of Lisbon authorises the European institutions to adopt new measures concerning:

the implementation of the principle of mutual recognition: each judicial system must recognise decisions adopted by the judicial systems of the other EU countries as valid and applicable;
effective access to justice;
the development of alternative methods of dispute settlement;
the training of the judiciary and judicial staff.

Criminal Cooperation

With the abolition of the 3rd pillar of the EU, the whole of criminal judicial cooperation becomes a field in which the European institutions may legislate.

Specifically, the European institutions may henceforth establish minimum rules concerning the definition and sanctioning of the most serious criminal offences. In addition, the EU may also intervene in the definition of common rules concerning the functioning of criminal procedure, for example with regard to the admissibility of evidence or the rights of individuals.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon intends to strengthen the role of Eurojust in the EU. Eurojust’s mission is to help coordinate investigations and prosecutions between the competent authorities of EU countries. Currently, Eurojust only has the power to make proposals: it can request national authorities to initiate investigations or prosecutions. Henceforth, the Treaty of Lisbon offers the European institutions the option of extending the missions and powers of Eurojust with the ordinary legislative procedure.

Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon considers the possible creation of an actual European Public Prosecutor’s Office from Eurojust. Such an office would have significant powers as it could investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment the perpetrators of crimes. In addition, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office would itself be capable of exercising the functions of prosecutor in the competent courts of EU countries.

Nevertheless, the Treaty of Lisbon does not yet establish the European public prosecutor’s office, but merely authorises the Council, acting unanimously, to adopt a regulation in this regard. If the Council does not reach unanimity, then nine EU countries, at the least, will have the option of establishing a European public prosecutor’s office between them under the framework of enhanced cooperation.

Police Cooperation

As with criminal judicial cooperation, police cooperation benefits from the abolition of the 3rd pillar of the EU. Henceforth, the European institutions will be capable of adopting regulations and directives in this field.

The ordinary legislative procedure is thereby extended to all non-operational aspects of police cooperation. In contrast, operational cooperation will be determined through a special legislative procedure requiring Council unanimity. However, the Treaty of Lisbon also provides for the option of establishing enhanced cooperation if unanimity is not reached by the Council.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon provides for the gradual strengthening of the European Police Office (Europol). As with Eurojust, the Treaty of Lisbon henceforth authorises the Council and the Parliament to develop the missions and powers of Europol under the framework of the ordinary legislative procedure. Currently, the role of Europol is limited to facilitating cooperation between the authorities of EU countries. The Treaty of Lisbon specifies that new tasks could also include the coordination, organisation and implementation of operational actions.


The United Kingdom (1), Ireland and Denmark benefit from special arrangements, which include all the measures adopted under the framework of the area of freedom, security and justice. These three countries have the option of deciding not to participate in the legislative procedures in this field. They will, therefore, not be bound by the adopted measures.

In addition, two types of derogating clause are applied to the United Kingdom (1), Ireland and Denmark:

an ‘opt-in’ clause which enables each of them to participate, on a case by case basis, in the adoption procedure for a measure or the application of a measure already adopted. They will then be bound by this measure in the same way as other EU countries;
an ‘opt-out’ clause enabling them not to apply a measure at any time.
last update 22.09.2015


EU justice policy: the way forward

This European Commission communication sets out the political priorities with respect to making further progress towards a common European area of justice based on trust, mobility and growth by 2020.

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: The EU justice agenda for 2020 – Strengthening trust, mobility and growth within the Union (COM(2014) 144 final of 11.3.2014).

Key points

European Union justice policy must ensure that individuals and businesses can benefit fully from a trusted and fully functioning common European area of justice.

This communication presents the Commission’s vision for the future of EU justice policy in the form of an EU justice agenda for 2020.

Trust, mobility, growth: three key challenges need to be addressed in order to create a common area of justice by 2020, as shown below.

Mutual trust: this is the bedrock on which EU justice policy should be built. Instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant or rules on conflict-of-laws issues between EU countries require a high level of mutual trust between national justice authorities. Citizens, legal practitioners and judges must also be able to fully trust judicial decisions taken by other EU countries.
Mobility: Europeans are increasingly taking advantage of the rights conferred on them by the EU treaties. There are currently nearly 14 million EU citizens residing in a EU country of which they are not nationals. However, they still face practical and legal problems when they travel, study, marry, form a family and buy and sell products and services in other EU countries. Justice policy should continue to remove obstacles to EU citizens exercising their right to move freely and live in any EU country.

Growth: EU justice policy should continue to support economic recovery and growth and continue to tackle unemployment. Structural reforms need to be pursued so as to ensure that justice systems are capable of delivering swift, reliable and trustworthy justice. Businesses and consumers need to be confident that they will be able to effectively enforce contracts and handle disputes in court, or where possible out of court, throughout the EU, within a reasonable amount of time.

EU justice agenda for 2020

The Commission proposes tackling these challenges by means of the following methods or a combination of these.

1 Consolidate the existing legal framework: this would ensure that effective remedies are respected and that EU fundamental rights are defended. Efforts are also needed to improve the use of e-justice and to train judges and legal practitioners.

2 Codify EU law and practice: this would ensure that EU law is clearer and more consistent for citizens and businesses.

3 Complement the existing legal framework: where appropriate, new initiatives that facilitate citizens’ lives and further contribute to economic growth should be envisaged.

More information can be found on the Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice website or the Commission’s Effective Justice Newsroom website.

Justice Programme (2014-2020)

This programme contributes to the further development of a European Union area of justice based on mutual recognition and mutual trust, by promoting judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters and helping train judges and other legal practitioners.

Regulation (EU) No 1382/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 establishing a Justice Programme for the period 2014 to 2020.

It establishes the Justice programme for the period 2014-2020. It replaces 3 funding programmes that expired in 2013 (Civil Justice Programme, Criminal Justice Programme and Drug Prevention and Information Programme).From 29 December 2013. The programme started on 1 January 2014.

Key Points

The Justice Programme aims to ensure that EU law is fully and consistently applied. Its mission is to facilitate access to justice for people and businesses throughout the EU, particularly when they live, work, do business or even face trial in another EU country.

The 2014-2020 programme specifically promotes:

judicial cooperation in civil matters, including civil and commercial matters, insolvencies, family matters (such as divorce) and successions, etc.,
judicial cooperation in criminal matters such as financial crime (fraud, money laundering, corruption), cybercrime, environmental crime, terrorism, trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation and child pornography, etc.,
judicial training, including language training on legal terminology, with a view to fostering a EU common legal and judicial culture,
effective access to justice in the EU, including rights of victims of crime and procedural rights in criminal proceedings,
drugs policy initiatives (judicial cooperation and crime prevention aspects).
EU added value:

All actions funded must provide added value at EU level.

Projects funded must:

contribute to the effective and consistent implementation of EU law instruments (such as the European Arrest Warrant) or policies,
improve knowledge and understanding of EU law and policies, both for citizens and for legal professionals,
promote cross-border cooperation and develop mutual trust among EU countries,
improve the efficiency of judicial systems and their cooperation by means of information and communication technology,
create practical tools and solutions to address cross-border judicial issues.

Actions funded:

training activities (staff exchanges, seminars, development of online training tools or training modules for members of the judiciary and judicial staff, etc.),
mutual learning, cooperation activities, exchange of best practices, peer reviews, development of information technology tools including the improvement of the EU e-Justice portal to improve citizens’ access to justice,
awareness-raising activities, information campaigns, conferences, etc.,
support for key players (key EU organisations and networks EU countries’ authorities implementing EU law, etc.),
analytical activities (studies, data collection, development of common methodologies, indicators, surveys, preparation of guides, etc.).

To ensure the implementation of the programme, an annual work programme is adopted by the Commission with an overview of the main areas of funding and the budget allowed per objective.


Regulation (EU) No 1382/2013


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