1. Data protection
Following the NSA scandal, and because the technologies have evolved a lot during the past decade, the European institutions have decided to upgrade harmonised rules on data protection. Among other things, the new rules being discussed aim at making privacy policies clearer and more transparent for users of online services. The collection of personal data would be limited and its use would require the explicit user’s consent. The handing over of data to third countries would have to be authorised by a data protection authority; breaking the rules could have high costs.
2. The European Year of Citizens (2013)
The EYC’s purpose was to make citizens aware of their rights on the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the European citizenship and one year before the May 2014 elections. The European Year of Citizens was an initiative of the European Parliament. During a whole year, numerous events took place in all Member States to inform citizens, enable them to exchange directly with politicians and involve them in the debate about European policies, in particular those affecting their rights.
3. Free movement of workers
The free movement of workers is a key economic freedom in the EU, enshrined in the treaties since the beginning in 1957. Only a very tiny minority of workers actually use this freedom as many obstacles discourage others. The EU institutions are committed to continuously improving the situation of these workers because it is part of the solution to the European internal economic imbalances and it favours contacts between people from different countries. So, the European institutions insist on measures such as making mutual recognition of degrees and professional experience swifter and less bureaucratic, and preventing disadvantageous treatment in matters of cross-border taxation. This is particularly important for hundreds of thousands of people who live in a Member State and work in another. The EU has also addressed the risks of abuse of posted workers by developing legislation to determine which domestic rules must be applied to these workers.
4. Free movement of citizens
Free movement of citizens favours cultural exchanges and increases mutual understanding and solidarity between EU citizens. Moreover, it allows young people to study or volunteer abroad to broaden their horizons. Unfortunately, many hurdles remain, so that less than 3% of the EU total population lives in another Member State. To solve these problems, the EU has developed (and still considers introducing) rules on multiple issues such as social security coordination, cross-border healthcare or cross-border recognition of civil status documents. For students, teaching staff and volunteers, the programme “Erasmus +” has been provided with increased funding for the period 2014-2020.
Regarding the impact on welfare systems, studies showed that EU immigrants usually contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits. In addition, the EU institutions are committed to tackling fraud and abuse, but not at the cost of infringing honest citizens’ right to free movement.
5. The implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
The Charter of Fundamental Rights entered into force with the Treaty of Lisbon, in December 2009. It recognises a number of rights and freedoms to EU citizens. The Charter applies to EU institutions and bodies and to Member States when they implement European law. Its legal force is equal to that of EU treaties, i.e., it prevails over domestic law.
The Commission decided to develop a “fundamental rights culture” in the institutions to ensure compatibility of draft legislation with the Charter. It also monitors the Member States’ compliance where appropriate. Finally, it decided to better inform citizens on the Union’s role in fundamental rights and on legal remedies.
6. Fighting against discrimination: helping disabled persons
The EU has a very good record of fighting against discrimination on multiple grounds. This was reflected again in 2010, when the European Commission adopted a European Disability Strategy until 2020. It focuses on accessibility to infrastructure and information, participation in society, equality with non-disabled persons, improved employment opportunities, better access to education and training, social protection and poverty reduction programmes, and better access to health services of quality. This strategy is to be implemented through awareness-raising actions, financial support to relevant initiatives and data collection to better understand the problems faced by disabled persons and their needs.
7. Increased cooperation to fight cross-border crime
European institutions continued their joint effort to fight cross-border crime by increasing cooperation during the investigation period, facilitating the good progress of legal proceedings and improving cross-border enforcement of judicial decisions. So, the Parliament adopted a European Investigation Order to streamline and facilitate requests of cooperation between judicial authorities. EU institutions also discussed improvements to the European Arrest Warrant, which applies to intra-EU extradition of suspects. At the same time, there are new provisions to better protect suspects’ (fundamental) rights. The Commission also monitors how Member States use these and other EU instruments to make sure cross-border crime does not pay. Finally, the issue of cybercrime is also under discussion.