The prospect of a swift ratification of the Lisbon Treaty following the Irish ‘yes’ last weekend will allow the European Parliament to re-open sensitive dossiers, including bilateral agreements on visa waivers with the United States, according to MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld.
Sophie in ‘t Veld is a Dutch MEP from the ‘Democrats 66’ party, and sits in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group. She is vice-chairwoman of the European Parliament’s committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs.
She was speaking to EURACTIV’s editor Frédéric Simon.
What changes do you expect with the new treaty in the area of justice and home affairs?
In justice and home affairs, the European Parliament will be co-legislator now, whereas until now the 27 ministers would meet behind closed doors and hammer out deals. Now there will be democratic control in public because the European Parliament meets in public and the European Parliament has always been much more insistent on fundamental rights and democratic scrutiny, so the whole nature of the police and justice cooperation will change and will become much more democratic, but also much more efficient. Which is good because so far the ones who benefited from a divided and week Europe were criminals.
Will the EU have to re-open existing agreements if the Lisbon Treaty is finally approved?
There will be a number of legislative proposals which have not been finalised yet that will need to be re-opened. Many will be in the area of the use and transfer of personal data to other countries like the United States. We’re talking about bank data, we’re talking about passenger data, we’re talking about giving the Americans and other countries access to European databases of personal data – all these things will need to be re-opened.
Why will they need to be re-opened? There are bilateral agreements between these countries. Will they be invalidated?
They haven’t been formally ratified yet so officially they are not yet in force, and therefore they will have to be reviewed. The same proposals will have to be re-opened under the new procedure.
What about bilateral agreements between EU member states and other countries? Will these have to be re-opened too?
The United States have what they call a visa waiver programme, which means that certain countries get a visa waiver: if you travel to the United States, you don’t need a visa. They are on the one hand negotiating with those European countries that do not yet have visa waivers, mainly the East European countries. But they are also negotiating with the Western European countries, which already have a visa waiver. But now the Americans are saying if you want to keep your visa waiver you have to meet further demands in terms of security. And the Americans mainly want more access for example to police records. So if we want to keep our visa waiver, we have to give them more.
So now it will be the European Union negotiating these?
No, partly. Part of it will still be national competence, but whatever is done collectively at the moment will have to come under the scrutiny of the European Parliament. Which is a good thing because we meet in public and the member states have so far thought it was very cosy to have their backroom deals but they can no longer do that. Whatever they do will now be subject to democratic scrutiny and I think that is a major step forward for democracy in Europe.
What other big changes do you expect if the Lisbon Treaty finally comes into force?
There will be more efficiency and more democracy in many areas. One area where we will make a small step forward is foreign affairs. My party, the Dutch Liberals, we would have wanted to abolish all vetoes, we would have wanted Europe to really speak with one voice. We’ve now made a small step forward, there will be a European minister for foreign affairs – he won’t be called that way, but still. And if you look at all the big subjects – the Middle East, Iran – all the big challenges at the world stage, if we want to be serious to partners such as the United States, then Europe should speak with one voice. A divided Europe will always be weaker.