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Justice and Home Affairs

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EU Justice and Home Affairs policy (JHA) aims to protect the fundamental rights of EU citizens and to tackle crime and encourage cooperation on justice within the EU. It promotes cooperation between the different legal systems within the EU so countries can work together on issues of protecting people’s rights, asylum, immigration and criminal activity.


The opening of borders between increasing numbers of EU member states led to a rise in transnational criminal activity across Europe. Human trafficking, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and terrorism are all examples of crime that operates beyond national boundaries. In response to this, the Maastricht Treaty (1992) created European JHA policy under the control the European Council.  This designated asylum and immigration policy and judicial and police cooperation as ‘areas of common interest’.

The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) went further, giving EU institutions full control over some areas of JHA policy, such as asylum and immigration. This treaty also brought the Schengen Convention into EU law, which resulted in a need for further cooperation on JHA matters as border controls between Schengen countries were removed. The Tampere European Council (1999) established supranational bodies such as the European Judicial Network and Eurojust to help tackle cross-border crime.  In December 2001 EU leaders also agreed to create a European Arrest Warrant. The Lisbon Treaty (2007) extended the EU’s power on JHA further by giving the European Court of Justice jurisdiction over JHA for the first time. The UK, Denmark and Ireland have the option to opt out of JHA policies. In 2014 the UK opted out of 135 EU policing and criminal justice measures and then selectively opted-in to specific measures. This included keeping the European Arrest Warrant, which has been seen as controversial as it has led to miscarriages of justice in the EU.

How does JHA policy work?

EU co-operation on JHA has gradually developed leading to include EU JHA organisations and EU-wide data sharing. EU JHA bodies include Europol, which helps with cooperation in international investigations and has the power to request criminal investigations within member states, and Eurojust, which works to improve cross-border co-operation between prosecutors and courts. The European Commission also plans to create a European Public Prosecutor with powers to investigate fraud in EU finances, despite some opposition from national governments.

The EU maintains several Europe-wide databases including, for example, Eurodac, which stores the fingerprints of asylum-seekers to prevent the system being abused by people crossing national borders within the EU.  The 2005 Prüm Treaty led to the creation of a pan-European network of police databases for use in criminal proceedings.

National courts can also use European Arrest Warrants to work with other EU countries to arrest suspects or convicted criminals and return them to the country where they face charges. The arrest warrant can only be used for criminal acts that carry a custodial sentence of at least 12 months. This is intended to speed up extradition processes and reinforces the wider principle of mutual recognition in cases of serious crime.

Following the start of the recent migrant crisis, which saw over a million migrants come to the EU in 2015, the European Commission has announced that an EU border and coast guard will be set up to police the borders and to reduce the number of undocumented migrants entering the EU.