Check against delivery
Dear Madam Chair,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to present to you today the legal policy priorities of the German Council Presidency.
I already had the opportunity to meet some of you earlier today at lunch, and it is a pleasure now to meet all the members of this Committee.
For you, today's meeting is certainly nothing out of the ordinary. After all, ministers appear before you every six months to present their programmes.
However, from the perspective of the respective government, the situation is quite different. The Presidency is a tremendous challenge. It provides a country with the opportunity to take the lead in advancing our collective development and, at the same time, to set its own policy priorities.
The Union now has 27 members. With a six-month rotation period, my country would not assume the Presidency again until the year 2020. This numerical projection demonstrates that when the EU Presidency falls within the career of a national politician, it is quite a special occurrence. And this special occurrence motivates me to tackle this responsibility with the utmost commitment.
For the first time, we now have a Trio Presidency. Therefore, in the run-up to our Presidency, we closely coordinated our programme with our colleagues from Slovenia and Portugal. I am confident that this will enable us to accomplish our work with greater continuity and efficiency. Some of the projects that make headway during the upcoming five months will then be concluded during the subsequent Presidencies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
we have set three goals in the area of legal policy:
-to strengthen citizens' rights,
-to increase legal certainty for citizens and the business sector, and
-to strengthen the justice system and practical cooperation
Europe must be an area of freedom, security and justice. This is what our European treaties say; this is what our citizens expect; and this is what our political endeavours strive to achieve.
We have already made good progress in harmonising criminal law provisions and enhancing cooperation between security authorities, for example through the European arrest warrant. But we must not forget the other side of the coin. For this reason, we must work more intensively to strengthen citizens' rights.
Today, citizens and companies increasingly take advantage of the freedoms offered by a Europe without internal borders, and this is a positive development. But of course this raises new questions of a legal nature. The law must keep pace with these changing circumstances. Therefore, we need greater legal certainty with respect to cross-border activities.
The more diverse these cross-border activities of citizens and the business sector become and the more porous the Union's internal borders, the greater is the necessity of closer practical cooperation between the judicial authorities of the Member States. Only in this way will we be able to ensure that national justice systems remain the guarantors of law and justice in a unified Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your Committee has a significant role to play in enhancing legal certainty for consumers in Europe.
I would now like to turn to an important but controversial topic: the revision of the Consumer Credit Directive currently in force. We maintain our explicit support for the objectives of the European Commission: first, to establish a genuine internal market, and second, to ensure a high level of consumer protection in Europe.
As you know, the negotiations have proven to be difficult. Despite vigorous efforts, the Finnish Presidency did not succeed in bringing about a political agreement in the Council. We will continue the negotiations on the basis of the progress thus far achieved. In this process, we will strive to consolidate the views of the Member States - which to some extent remain highly divergent - into a reasonable compromise.
To the extent possible, we will take into consideration the impact assessment study commissioned by the European Parliament. For this to occur, however, the study will need to be submitted earlier during our Presidency, as the Council expects a rapid resumption of negotiations under the German Presidency. For this reason, we would like to ask that you make the results of this study available to the Council as quickly as possible.
However, it is already clear that we will be able to reach a compromise only if all parties involved are prepared to make certain concessions for the sake of an agreement. But the prospect of creating a genuine internal market that benefits both consumers as well as creditors is worth the effort.
However, the revision of specific Directives (in the area of contractual consumer protection) should be embedded within a comprehensive review of EU contractual consumer protection law. Specific contradictions and ambiguities contained in the immense number of individual provisions could be removed in this way.
After all, it is a problem that cannot be denied: European legislation always regulates only partial areas of life - and this is not done in the form of comprehensive codification, but rather through specific Regulations, Directives or Framework Decisions. This increases the danger that the law will become confusing, unsystematic and unpredictable for both citizens and the business sector.
For this reason, more coherence was already called for in the Hague Programme. The Commission's initiatives to establish a common frame of reference for European contract law and to review the existing consumer acquis can contribute to this effort. A common frame of reference that includes the essential principles of contract law, as well as definitions and model provisions, could provide valuable assistance as we pursue the objective of coherent legislation. As a parallel measure, the review of the consumer acquis will help to eliminate remaining internal contradictions in Community law. Thus these Commission initiatives are commendable, and they are key priorities for us as well.
However, a model makes sense only if it truly works in practice and is more than just a theoretical formula. After all, the following remains true for all our endeavours: The Europeanisation of law is not an end in itself. The goal is not to realise a theoretical ideal but rather to create practical added value for citizens. For this reason, conflict of law rules are sometimes more important than full harmonisation, and networking among existing national authorities is often better than creating a new centralised bureaucracy.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that my elaborations have provided you with a brief overview of the objectives that the German Presidency has set itself. Whether these objectives can be achieved depends crucially on your support. I am aware of how important this Committee is, and I look forward to purposeful and successful cooperation with you.