The following contribution was sent to EurActiv by European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, responsible for justice, and Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.
"The European Commission has been in office for just two months and our mailbox is already getting full. Citizens want to see action as we confront pan-European issues such as global warming, ageing populations and economic recovery.
People are asking questions on real-life, practical problems: how to get documents recognised for a marriage or adoption, how to deal with pensions and wills and what to do with an insurance claim for a car accident while on holiday. Citizens are also worried about managing immigration and fighting terrorism, smuggling and cybercrime. They also want to know how their private data is protected on social-networking sites.
The European Commission is responding to these concerns today with concrete actions. As the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Commissioners, we are presenting a five-year plan to create a borderless area where citizens enjoy freedom and security.
These initiatives will defend citizens' rights and cut red tape for businesses, which is good news for consumers. They will also protect citizens from identity theft, re-inforce our common Schengen borders and bolster cooperation between governments in many areas, such as asylum policy.
EU action is essential to solve these problems. Take the case of a citizen who is arrested while travelling abroad and doesn't understand the language. How can you defend yourself? The Commission last month presented a legislative proposal to ensure that the accused has the right to interpretation and translation of important documents in criminal proceedings, ensuring that trials are fair everywhere in the EU.
Today's plan calls for more initiatives to strengthen procedural rights, including proposals on informing the accused about charges, providing legal advice and communicating with relatives and ensuring special safeguards for vulnerable persons.
Europeans must also act together to deal with immigration and asylum policies. We want to avoid situations where people are shopping from one country to the next for the most lenient asylum policies. EU solidarity means setting up a common asylum system but also ensuring the successful integration of legal migrants.
Citizens' concerns about data protection are justified and their rights to data protection are fully enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. To further bolster these rights, we will modernise the Data Protection Directive, which dates from 1995, to respond to new technology changes, such as social-networking sites. We will also review the Data Retention Directive to ensure that it balances the need to protect citizens'privacy while remaining a useful tool to fight terrorism.
Citizens also want to know how their data is shared with other countries to fight terrorism. We need clear conditions for this. There can be no data sharing without robust data protection safeguards. Negotiations will start soon with the United States on exchanging financial data to prevent and fight terrorist attacks while safeguarding the right to privacy and personal data protection.
We will also set the conditions for sharing citizens' data for airline travel with other countries and develop an EU approach for using these passenger records for law enforcement purposes.
These are just a few examples out of the several dozen actions in today's plan. We need to work diligently over the next five years to deliver this vision. The letters – which will keep coming – are useful reminders that citizens are at the heart our project to deliver justice and security."