The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 15 February 2007 in Brussels. Baroness Scotland and I attended on behalf of the UK.
The German presidency opened the Council with adoption of the ‘A’ points list which was approved apart from point 9, a mandate to open negotiations on the exchange of passenger name records. The items adopted included a regulation establishing an EU agency for fundamental rights, and a report on the extent of trafficking of human beings during the 2006 world cup in Germany and the measures taken by Germany to deal with this.
The presidency hosted an informal dinner for Ministers the evening before the Council, at which Ministers discussed how best to prepare the post-2009 JHA programme. The discussion built on the ideas put forward by the German presidency at the informal JHA Council in Dresden; notably, the idea of setting up an informal group of the next six presidencies and the Commission to co-ordinate this work. Member states generally welcomed the idea of preliminary work by such a group to assist in the thorough preparation of any future work programme, while recognising that this would be without prejudice to any formal discussions and decisions in the Council at the appropriate time. The UK secured agreement that the group should include a common law expert, that it should adopt transparent working methods to allow contributions from those outside the group, and should report regularly.
One of the principal items considered by JHA Ministers last week was the exchange of policing information between member states in the context of incorporating the Prüm treaty into the EU legal order. This will facilitate the identification and subsequent exchange of information on fingerprints, vehicle registration and DNA. The Council mandated experts to prepare a Council decision for adoption in the coming months which will transfer the third pillar (police co-operation and data sharing) elements of that treaty into the EU, subject to deletion of a provision on measures in the event of immediate danger. I welcomed this approach and the importance of effective exchange of information more generally. I noted however that in taking forward this work further consideration needed to be given to the detail of the data protection regime and that sufficient time would be required for national Parliaments to scrutinise the proposal.
The Council also secured a general approach on a framework decision which will provide for the exchange of prisoners between member states so that custodial sentences can be served in the prisoner’s home state, close to family and friends. Once finalised and implemented we believe that this will benefit both member states and our citizens in aiding the re-integration into societies of our prisoners. While participating in this general approach the UK maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reserve. Once adopted the Government expect this to reduce numbers of foreign prisoners in UK jails.
On migration there was discussion on a common approach to partnership agreements with countries of origin and transit. It was suggested that these agreements should include information on legal migration channels, national quotas, circular migration and capacity building, in exchange for readmission, safeguarding human rights and a commitment to manage migration. There was general agreement from member states on this approach although a majority were against the inclusion of quotas. The UK stressed the need for a flexible approach, highlighting a points- based system as an alternative to quotas. The Council noted that the first of the Commission’s proposals on legal migration would be expected in May.
There was a lunchtime discussion on the framework decision on racism and xenophobia. It is clear that there is a commitment to reaching agreement on this measure and member states supported the text as a basis for further work. However, the UK, along with a number of other members states, could not accept article 8(2) on mutual legal assistance, which we argued had been superseded by the European evidence warrant. One member state argued for the retention of this article. The presidency indicated that it would seek agreement to the text at the April JHA Council.
In the Mixed Committee the Council took note that the SISOne4all project was running on time. The global rescheduling of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) was also noted. The focus on SISOne4all has meant that there will be a six-month delay to the SIS II programme; the SIS II operational date for those member states already connected to the SIS 1+ will be mid-December 2008.
There was support for reaching an early agreement on the regulation establishing rapid border intervention teams, with the presidency hoping to agree it at the April JHA Council. Baroness Scotland stressed our support for Frontex, despite our exclusion from the regulation and offered to make available some equipment and expertise.
The increasing numbers of Moldovan applications for Romanian nationality was discussed under AOB, the Commission asking member states to participate in the common consular centre initiatives. This question will be discussed further at senior official level.
Finally, as another AOB item, the Commission presented their proposal for a directive setting criminal sanctions for environmental crimes. This would oblige member states to treat serious offences against the environment as criminal acts and set minimum sanctions for environmental crimes. Negotiations on this proposal will commence at a working group in March.