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Justice and Home Affairs Pre-Council Statement

Volume 501: debated on Thursday 26 November 2009

The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on 30 November and 1 December 2009 in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice,my noble Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Bach, and the Scottish Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, intend to attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:

The Council, beginning in Mixed Committee with non-EU Schengen states, will receive an update from the presidency on the current state of play on the implementation of the regulation establishing the Visa Information system (VIS). The UK does not participate in that regulation.

The presidency will update Ministers on arrangements for the first milestone test for the second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). The UK welcomes the update and will seek to ensure that the test is well-planned and managed, ideally taking place before the end of 2009.

The Council will have an orientation debate on the Commission’s proposal for establishing an EU agency for the management of large-scale IT systems. The Commission carried out an impact assessment which endorsed the need to create an agency. The UK supports the need for an agency and wishes to take part in the adoption and application of this proposal.

Finally, the Mixed Committee will be asked to adopt legislation giving Schengen visa liberalisation to Serbia, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro. While the UK does not participate in the EU visa regime, we maintain an interest in all visa issues.

Following Mixed Committee, the Council will be asked to adopt a decision authorising the presidency to sign, on behalf of the EU, an agreement between EU and Japan on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters (MLA). The presidency has recently concluded negotiations on this agreement and UK objectives in relation to this were met. The UK is therefore content for such a decision to be adopted, subject to the views of the Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees.

The presidency will present the draft future JHA work programme (the Stockholm Programme) and there will be a general debate with interior items on day one and justice on day two. Ministers will be expected to agree the draft programme which will be adopted at the December European Council.

Measures contained in the programme aim to ensure that every citizen can have confidence that, wherever they are in the EU, judicial decisions made in a civil court in their favour can be enforced, criminals will face justice and all defendants are guaranteed a fair trial.

The programme will result in an EU where children are safer, where data are shared sensibly, where we facilitate legal travel but clamp down on illegal immigration, where mutual recognition is the cornerstone of judicial co-operation, where member states co-operate on counter-terrorism and combat organised crime, and where we work closely with external countries on JHA and beyond.

There will be a state of play discussion on the Common European Asylum System, which is likely to focus on the recently published asylum procedures and qualification directives. Since December 2008 the European Commission has been proposing measures to deliver the second phase of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The proposals on the procedures (which sets out minimum standards for deciding asylum claims, including rules on such things as interviews and appeal rights) and qualification (which sets out the circumstances in which applicants will qualify for international protection) directives were published by the Commission on the 23 October 2009. The presidency will want to gauge member states’ initial reactions to the new proposals. The UK believes these directives are not necessary at this time as they undermine the migration pact and will be seeking to ensure that language in these directives aligns with the conclusions in the migration pact.

Over lunch, Interior Ministers will hold a discussion on the location of the European asylum support office.

The presidency will present the outcomes and action points of the EU-US ministerial troika and of the EU-Western Balkans ministerial forum. There will also be a presentation on the preparation of the EU-Russia ministerial Permanent Partnership Council (PPC), due to be held on 2 December in Stockholm. The UK supports the presidency’s efforts in these areas.

There will be a presentation on the six-monthly report by the counter-terrorism co-ordinator (CTC). The CTC has recently revised the counter-terrorism action plan and after receiving comments from member states will present the action plan to the Council. The UK supports efforts made by the CTC to continue to drive forward EU co-operation on CT, and is particularly appreciative of his efforts with priority third countries, such as Pakistan.

The presidency is seeking to adopt the Council decision on the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme. The US Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) currently uses payment information carried through the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) system to identify and trace terrorist finance and facilitators. This agreement is needed because of a restructuring of SWIFT. The UK supports the Council decision subject to the views of the Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees.

The presidency is seeking to approve the proposal for an information management strategy for EU internal security. The strategy should allow enhanced project management and improved data security. The UK supports the latest draft which calls for a strategic approach across the areas of law enforcement, judicial co-operation and border management and is content for its approval at Council.

On day two of the Council, as previously stated, Justice Ministers will be asked to discuss and agree to the justice aspects of the draft future JHA work programme (the Stockholm Programme).

The presidency will provide Justice Ministers with information on the current state of play of working group negotiations on the proposed framework decision on combating the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography. The Government support this measure, but due to the changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty, this proposal will no longer be taken forward as a framework decision. The Commission are likely to retable this proposal as a directive after the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect. The Government will update the Scrutiny Committees about this.

Justice Ministers will also have an orientation debate about the negotiations that have been taking place at official level about a proposed framework decision on transfer of proceedings in criminal cases. This proposal, too, will no longer be taken forward as a framework decision after the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect. It would need to be represented as a directive, but it is unclear in what timescale this will happen.

The Council will then have an orientation debate to clarify the way forward on the draft framework decision on combating trafficking of human beings following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The presidency will also seek to adopt the action orientated paper (AOP) on human trafficking. The UK welcomes the approach adopted in the AOP, which creates a more coherent and proactive approach to combating trafficking by EU member states in partnership with third countries.

Finally on the justice agenda, the presidency are expected to inform the Council on the state of play on e-justice.