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Justice And Home Affairs Council

Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the outcome was of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held on 5 to 6 June; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [118416]

The United Kingdom was represented at the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Luxembourg on 5–6 June by my noble Friend (Lord Filkin) and my noble Friend (the Baroness Scotland). The A points were approved as in document PTS A 32 and ADD 1 (9941/03) (a copy has been placed in the Library) with the exception of item 21.The Council concluded a political agreement on the Council Directive concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents.One member state retained scrutiny reservations on the Directive on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third-country nationals and stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection. The Presidency remitted the Directive to COREPER with a view to securing agreement at the Thessaloniki European Council in order to meet the deadline set at the Seville Council. Member states lifted the majority of their reservations on the first two Chapters of the amended proposal for a Council Directive on minimum standards on procedures in member states for granting and withdrawing refugee status. Five member states, including the United Kingdom, also presented a joint declaration calling for a minimum common EU list of safe countries of origin to be included in the text.The Commission presented its Communications on illegal immigration, asylum systems and integration and employment. Lord Filkin welcomed the Communications noting that there was a need to address the crisis in Europe and across the world in the international protection system. Lord Filkin also said that the Council should consider the priorities for the Thessaloniki European Council. In particular, there was a need to integrate asylum and migration issues into the EU's relations with third countries; set targets for the conclusion of readmission agreements; and give a commitment to burden sharing. He also called for a European Returns Fund; extra Community funding for JHA activity post-2006; and agreement to take forward pilot projects to test out new approaches to international protection with interested member states and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).The Council subsequently agreed conclusions on the effective management of the EU's external borders. A discussion on conclusions on a common policy on illegal immigration, external borders, the return of illegal immigrants and co-operation with third countries focussed on the need for a financial mechanism to assist Community return policy, which the United Kingdom supported.The Council agreed conclusions on the functions of SIS and the SIS II architecture and the Council Decision concerning the signature of Agreements between EU-US on extradition and mutual legal assistance. On the latter, the majority of member states, including the United Kingdom, entered declarations under Article 24(5) TEU to the effect that they would not be bound by the Agreements until they had met constitutional, or in the case of the United Kingdom, legislative requirements.The Council resolved the outstanding issues of principle on the Regulation concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and in matters of parental responsibility on the basis of a Presidency compromise package. The Regulation was remitted to experts to address the final technical questions.The Council held an orientation debate on the Regulation creating a European enforcement order for uncontested civil claims during which Ministers discussed the scope of the Regulation, minimum standards for the service of claims, appeal provisions and the omission of a public policy based right to refuse enforcement. Baroness Scotland welcomed the proposed Regulation, emphasising the benefits that better debt recovery would bring to businesses trading cross-Europe. She supported the Presidency's proposals, in particular the inclusion within the minimum standards of postal service where that method was permitted in the State in which both parties resided and where the possibility of setting aside the judgment continued until enforcement commenced. The issue of whether to exclude consumer debts from the scope of the Regulation and the matter of claims which attracted state immunity protection were remitted to the working group.Member states indicated that they could accept the proposal that confiscation orders be enforced in the absence of dual criminality for a list of offences specified in Article 5 of the Framework Decision on the execution in the EU of Confiscation Orders. However, member states linked the enforcement of extended confiscation orders as defined in Article 2 to grounds for refusal set out in Article 7.The Presidency presented a progress report on the Framework Decision on the application of the principle of "ne bis in idem" and on negotiations with Switzerland to participate in the Schengen Aquis and asylum matters. The Commission gave a detailed summary of the latest version of the JHA Scoreboard noting in particular that some of the deadlines set at the Seville European Council were not going to be met. Under Any Other Business, the Presidency presented its ideas for the creation of common data protection rules for the Third Pillar.The Mixed Committee with Norway and Iceland met at Ministerial level in the margins of the Council. It approved conclusions endorsing the creation of the Visa Information System; conclusions on the functions of SIS and SIS II architecture; the Directive on assistance in transit for the purposes of removal by air; conclusions on the Schengen Evaluation of Spain; a report following up the Schengen evaluation of France; conclusions on increasing the efficiency of the Schengen evaluation mechanism; and the Regulation on the issuing of visas for members of the Olympic family for the 2004 Games. The Mixed Committee also took note of the Presidency's report on the implementation of programmes, ad hoc centres, pilot projects and joint operations for the effective management of the external border.