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Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council 1 and 2 October

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

The informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held in Lisbon on the 1 and 2 October 2007. The Home Secretary, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following main issues were discussed at the Council and, since it was an informal Council, no formal decisions were taken.

The first session opened with an introduction to the new counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove. The presidency stressed that he would need to be a key link between the Commission and the Council. The Commission introduced the legislative package it was planning to present in November which would include an amended framework decision on terrorism, work on explosives, and an EU system for the exchange of passenger name records.

The UK thanked member states for their support in tackling terrorism in the UK and acknowledged that terrorism was an EU-wide problem. The UK and others highlighted the importance of data sharing and using databases to support law enforcement to strengthen the EU’s security. The UK supported targeted information exchange. The presidency concluded that preventing radicalisation needed joining up of all information sources. There would be further discussion at EU level.

In a discussion on deportation with assurances, the UK emphasised that deportation was an important tool, but exposed a difficult balance: ensuring we could deport an individual deemed a risk to our security while protecting that individual’s rights. The UK fully endorsed the use of technology, for example CCTV, in combating terrorism.

The presidency subsequently introduced its paper on the importance of automatic border crossing systems and the Schengen information system. The Commission expanded on this paper by stating that existing visa systems were outdated and, in the medium-term, the EU should look to implement a comprehensive entry/exit system. This was broadly welcomed.

The UK welcomed work on inter-operable systems noting that the use of screening technology had facilitated over 1,200 arrests in the UK. Iris recognition helped ease passage through airports, and gave confidence in identity. The UK advocated sharing such technology since it would enhance member state security.

Member states agreed to use new technologies in border control, with the right protections. Frontex was an essential tool for border management and there was agreement that biometric passports were needed in the EU, and around the world.

On e-justice, member states confirmed that work should continue on the basis of the Council’s decision in June. While electronic means of working should be encouraged, there should not be any legislation making the use of e-justice methods compulsory. Rather, work should continue on the basis of the sharing of best practice. It was agreed that the proposed e-justice portal should include information on missing and abducted children.

Child protection was discussed on the second day of the Council. The UK highlighted the issue of monitoring sex offenders across the EU. While acknowledging offenders right to re-build their lives, liberty needed to be balanced with the risk of re-offending through proportionate monitoring measures. However some member states had their concerns. The UK supported any practical measures to track missing children, and suggested a child abduction taskforce, to look at solutions across the EU.

Member states recommended efficient co-operation and working with relevant national authorities, EU bodies and agencies allowing for joint and co-ordinated work on the prevention and fight against child abuse. Member states agreed that co-operation and exchange of information between relevant national authorities and Europol and Eurojust must be reinforced. EU Ministers accepted that promoting a legislative solution was not the only answer to the problem but that the adoption of concrete measures at EU level led to effective and immediate improvement of child protection.

Member states agreed to interconnect (already existing in some member states) national child alert systems. This could be implemented without any legislation, complementing co-operation between relevant national authorities. It was agreed that crimes committed against children via the internet should be condemned and punished; the Commission was asked to present proposals for measures designed to improve prevention and the fight against those actions. EU Ministers recommended that European and international legislative instruments to fight cybercrime committed against minors should be ratified and enforced by member states. EU Ministers strongly agreed that the promotion of children’s rights and the protection of children must constitute a priority in the context of external relations, namely with the EU’s neighbour countries.