Judges at the European Court in Luxembourg would be given a controversial new role in settling sensitive asylum, immigration and visa cases, under proposals to overhaul EU cross-border judicial co-operation set to be unveiled on Wednesday.

José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, will call for a shake-up of the way Europe tackles issues such as international crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. He will press member states to lift national vetoes to make it easier to make laws to help fight terrorism and improve cross-border crime-fighting.

To counterbalance the growth in EU lawmaking in the field of justice and security, he will propose beefing up the role of the European Court of Justice in settling related legal disputes. He is expected to argue citizens should be able to get quick rulings at the Luxembourg court – after a referral from a national court – without first having to exhaust legal remedies in their home country.

Any extension of the remit of the European Court in sensitive areas such as asylum, visa policy and family reunions is likely to provoke claims in some quarters of creeping EU federalism. But Mr Barroso and Franco Frattini, EU justice commissioner, will argue that the current legal system discriminates against vulnerable groups like asylum seekers who do not have the means to pursue claims through the national courts.

The sensitivity of the issue was recognised by the EU’s 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, which said legal claims under EU law in the justice and security field had to be exhausted in national courts before a case could go to Luxembourg. Member states were supposed to review that provision in 2004 but failed to do so; today Mr Barroso will argue that the time has come to give the ECJ its normal role in interpreting EU law.

Britain has an “opt-out” from some areas of EU law in the justice field, but the issue is controversial elsewhere, notably in Germany. Günter Gloser, Germany’s Europe minister, yesterday rejected Mr Barroso’s suggestion that member states should consider lifting their vetoes to make EU lawmaking easier in the justice field. Speaking at The Centre think-tank in Brussels, he said such a move amounted to “cherry picking” parts of the EU’s constitutional treaty, which Germany wants to revive.

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