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The Button Monster - On holiday in the EU: the European Arrest Warrant

By our guest columnist. 

It will happen to you, you have planned a holiday with your family within the EU, in Bulgaria. Your holiday ends in a nightmare. One of your children had gone out with the local youth in good faith. Subsequently, your child has been taken into custody. There is no indication as to why your child is being held, an interpreter is not available and prison conditions are poor: occupancy rate is 155 per cent, dirty food, poor hygiene and no medical care. After months of pretrial detention, and with the help of an expensive lawyer and interpreter funded by you, you are lucky enough to be allowed to bring your child to the Netherlands; the judge has passed a sentence. The following year, you decide to go to Poland on holiday, but at the border your child is once again detained. It turned out that the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was still in force and they refused to let it expire. Fiction? No, it is reality. Between 2005 and 2010, 54,689 EAWs were issued in the EU, of which 11,630 were extradited.

The EAW was created by the EU because of the terrorist threat and to make it possible to punish EU citizens for serious offences within an EU Member State. Meanwhile, serious offences like murder and terrorism have degenerated into elastic concepts like "corruption" and "xenophobia". All too often, countries make use of this. Leaders in filing EAW requests are, in order of height of numbers: Poland, followed by Germany, Romania, France and Hungary.

Attempts to address the Dutch government come to nothing. Minister Opstelten does not budge. Even higher up, things are not working out. Despite requests to European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, submitted by the Lawyers' Collective, Fair Trial International, Amnesty International, Anti Torture Committee, and many others, the Commission is ignoring everything. The only adjustment that will be made, Ms Reding said in a presentation to the European Parliament on 8 June 2011, is to adjust the existing Report. These adjustments foresee that EU countries will not make a request at random. The offence must soon be assessed proportionately. If the offence is minor and the costs high, a request will no longer be honoured. Furthermore, executing member states must be able to gather information to check whether evidence was obtained in accordance with applicable legal standards, and there is a right to legal assistance in both countries.

So where is the rub? Well, in the Netherlands, a Dutch judge cannot test whether your Dutch child is rightly or wrongly imprisoned in an EU Member State. This is annoying, because in the Netherlands, the Constitution stipulates that an independent judge tests whether an offence has been committed, and if so, what the punishment will be. In the case of the EAW, this does not apply and only the International Legal Assistance Chamber (IRK) in Amsterdam is allowed to inspect the arrest warrant for content, and nothing else. So there is no review or check of the content. Thus, the Dutch citizen is handed over to the jurisdiction of the EU country concerned. It should be clear that both jurisdiction and legislation differ from country to country. The question remains why Minister Opstelten does not stand up for the Dutch people and set limits on what we accept and what we do not. It is also incomprehensible why the Lower House does not make this problem one of its first priorities.

Every Dutch citizen is supposed to know the law. Should we now also start looking into the laws of all EU member states?

So the bad news is that it is not all bad at all. Just as fatal diseases, accidents, etc. do not occur only in others, the chances of someone in your family or circle of acquaintances soon being imprisoned within the EU are increasing every year. You can follow developments on the EAW via Google and any other search engine.