We are Europe (sort of…)

We are Europe… more precisely we are the Working Group on European Policy and Practice of Offender Supervision but since this is a long name, somebody said that she preferred to think of our group as “Europe”. So I somehow felt directly affected when I heard last Friday that the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I was not sure, however, how to react. Obviously, I think Europe is interesting and important – but the EU? Peace? What about fortress Europe, the financial crisis, mass unemployment, increasing income inequalities? What about the rest of Europe? And the world? Is this Nobel Prize, as dubbed in a German blog, a “western prize for a western audience”; the EU an achievement “of white men for white men”? The Norwegian Nobel committee justified its decision by stating that “the union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Our colleague Martine Herzog-Evans put it that way: “We older EU countries tend to ‘complain with ease’ as we say in French as we’ve comfortably enjoyed peace and hardly ever notice any more. We should remember and enjoy. This is a very important day.” True, and worth raising glasses… Nevertheless there is no reason to lean back; much has to be done to live up to this prize in the future.

And it has to be done not only by governments or institutions; it has to be done by the EU citizens, by us. Which leads me – finally – to the small contribution we, as European researchers, might be able to make to that process and which we discussed on our first meeting in Brussels two weeks ago. Our working group is concerned with the role of European institutions for offender supervision, as well as with questions of policy transfer. In Brussels, we had WG members from five countries present – Belgium, Italy Malta, Spain and Germany. During the meeting the discussions focused on three main themes: The obvious starting point with regard to the EU level was the Framework Decision 947 of 2008 on the transfer of probation decisions and, to a lesser extent, the FD 829 of 2009 on the transfer of pre-trial supervision measures, because Member States have to transpose them into national legislation and implement them into national practice. The second focus was on the European human rights framework for offender supervision, provided mainly by recommendations by the Council of Europe (European Probation Rules and the European Rules on Community Sanctions and Measures). Thirdly we discussed methods to study the question of policy transfer.

The general idea of the COST activities in the first year to establish an inventory of research only partly works for our WG 4 – in many European countries our topics are simply not covered by research (yet – exceptions are mentioned in our draft reports). We also have (for the moment at least) too few countries represented in the WG to be able to compile something comprehensive. We will, however, try to recruit more people, particularly from the Baltic and CEE countries – please do get in touch if you are interested.

We agreed on concentrating first on the instruments by the Council of Europe. The task is threefold: We need to answer the question if and why it is necessary for national authorities/practice to use them (the legitimacy aspect). We need to take a European view – how do they fit in the general European framework (that means to keep in mind other instruments and policies). And, most important, we must look at how the ideas of the Council of Europe instruments are implemented in national practice.

To provide an in-depth analysis, we will focus on two points: First, the issue of breach (with all connected features: who decides – in theory and in practice – ; what are the consequences – mandatory or not; how are the possibilities of review; procedural guarantees etc.). Second, offender involvement in very general terms (with the question of legal requirements of consent, voluntary co-operation in practice, information etc. – here also the national developments over time are interesting). Secondly, we will provide a follow-up on all research and practice activities connected to the 2008/947 FD; mainly relying on ISTEP (Implementation Support for the Transfer of European Probation Sentences; see http://www.cepprobation.org/uploaded_files/ISTEP-Project-Overview-Letter.pdf) material. The FD obviously is the trigger for the current manifold European activities, we certainly do not want to duplicate these – here we will probably come closest to establishing an inventory of ongoing projects and research relating to the FD on probation. Thirdly – and most difficult – we will deal with the question of policy transfer. Here again, important voices are missing from Baltic and CEE countries that were importing all sorts of normative/legislative concepts and supervision programmes. We were thinking of restricting the question of policy transfer to certain buzzwords (or buzz-concepts) such as RNR (Risk-Need-Responsivity) or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapies). Also, we could concentrate on sex-offender programmes. However, reports should not be restricted if other examples of policy transfer (or transplants) are worth discussing as well.

To come back to my initial thoughts: Our aim is to explore not only common problems but also common European standards of offender supervision – only if we identify such an European view, the intensified collaboration in that field will work. The “European idea” is based on some set of common values, the catalogue of human rights laid down in the European Convention of Human Rights being the most visible. I do not only say that as a notoriously optimistic (naïve?) human rights lawyer, but also because this is what European citizens say (at least those surveyed in the Eurobarometer 69 and 74). Both to the question which values represent best the European Union and to the question which values are the most important for them personally, the most frequent answer was “human rights”. Probably not many of them have thought of the situation and rights of offenders, but we will.

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