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Justice and home affairs (JHA)

JAI meeting - 24.03.10The field of justice and home affairs (JHA), which directly affects the lives of European citizens, is probably the policy area where the Treaty of Lisbon has had most impact.

  • Practically the whole field of JHA is subject to the ordinary legislative procedure (with a qualified majority vote in the Council), with the exception of family law, operational police cooperation and a few other areas (see Background).
  • In addition, matters which were previously dealt with under the third pillar, such as judicial cooperation in criminal matters and police cooperation, will be treated under the same kind of rules as those of the single market. Consequently, EU and national measures in these areas will be subject to the judicial review of the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

History shows that we have come a long way...


■ Informal cooperation and the creation of the Schengen area

The Member States began to cooperate in the field of justice and home affairs in the mid 1970s on an informal, intergovernmental basis, outside the European Community framework. In 1985 West Germany, France and the Benelux countries concluded the Schengen Agreement, which was an important step on the road to cooperation between the Member States in this area. Over the years that followed, other Member States, and countries outside the EU, acceded to the Schengen Agreement and to the Convention implementing it.

The Schengen area currently comprises 26 countries (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).

The aim of this agreement was to initiate genuine freedom of movement for persons by abolishing controls at internal borders while adopting accompanying measures as regards the controls at external borders, visa policy, and judicial and police cooperation in criminal matters.


■ Towards further integration

A new step was taken with the Treaty on European Union, which came into force in November 1993, and which incorporated the fields of justice and home affairs into its institutional framework, thereby adding a new dimension to European integration.

The Schengen acquis became part of the European Union's institutional framework with the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999. One of the Treaty's main objectives was to maintain and develop the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice, in which the free movement of persons is ensured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime. The Treaty also introduced the possibility of adopting measures on judicial cooperation in civil matters by qualified majority, in codecision with the European Parliament, except for family‑law measures, for which decisions are taken unanimously by the Council after consultation of the European Parliament.

Since the Treaty of Lisbon, the Council also takes decisions by qualified majority in codecision with the European Parliament under the ordinary legislative procedure on most issues relating to criminal law.


Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland do not participate fully in the implementation of certain measures.
Council meetings are prepared by working parties and committees.

■ Exceptions

It should be noted that Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland do not participate fully in the implementation of certain measures relating to the fields of justice and home affairs or that their participation is subject to certain conditions.
In particular, the UK and Ireland do not participate in the implementation of the provisions of the Schengen Agreement on the free movement of persons, external border controls and visa policy. Consequently, the representatives of those States do not vote on those issues in the Council.


■ Working structures and specialised bodies

The Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) brings together the justice and home affairs ministers every three months, to discuss the development and implementation of cooperation and common policies in this sector.
The Council therefore acts as co legislator of the EU by henceforth adopting directives and regulations over the whole field of justice and home affairs.
 Council meetings are prepared by working parties and committees, such as the CATS (police and judicial cooperation), the Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum, the COSI (Committee on Internal Security) set up after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Working Party on Civil Law Matters.
The Institutions are backed up by a number of specialised bodies, including: