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Justice and Home Affairs (Post-Council Statement)

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Bach and I attended the Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council in Spain on 21 and 22 January.

Discussions on the interior day centred on three themes: an EU internal security strategy, counter-terrorism following the attempted bombing on Christmas day over Detroit, and legal migration following the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty.

During the first session all member states supported the presidency’s proposal for an internal security strategy, which the presidency said was intended to carry a simple message on shared threats and shared response. I welcomed the draft strategy but additionally called for an organised crime strategy which would identify priority issues and enhance co-operation at EU level. The Commission undertook to present a political communication which we will share with Parliament when received. The presidency concluded that the internal security strategy would be submitted to COREPER.

In the second session on counter-terrorism the presidency welcomed the US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to the informal Council. She gave a brief summary of the Detroit incident, stressed the importance of information exchange and in particular passenger name record data for collective security, and called for the work of the EU-US high level group on data protection to be formalised into a binding agreement. I said that the Detroit incident should serve as a wake-up call. Al-Qaeda’s capacity to carry out unimaginable acts was now known and we had a responsibility to close identified security gaps speedily. I identified a number of areas for EU action, including: the need to collect advanced passenger information on intra-EU flights; expedite an EU PNR agreement where we needed a clear legal framework that included intra-EU flights; proposals on allowing scanners as primary screening tools; targeted capacity-building to countries where there was an al-Qaeda threat and we should not forget the work currently being done to reduce radicalisation and recruitment. Other delegations also called for an EU PNR instrument, stressed the importance of work with third countries, and highlighted the need for research and analysis of information.

The presidency opened the final session on legal migration noting the opportunities offered by the Lisbon treaty in this area and their proposals for work on unaccompanied minors. The Commission said that new directives on intra-company transferees and seasonal workers would also be proposed, along with a Green Paper and change to family reunification rules. Other delegations said there was a need to take action to account for demographics, labour market needs and impact on social security systems. Some argued that it was not possible to separate illegal immigration from legal migration and integration and therefore stressed the importance of action on border management and the establishment of the EU entry/exit system in 2010. The presidency concluded by looking forward to the Stockholm action plan and the fourth Ministerial meeting on integration which was planned for 15-16 April.

Discussions on the justice day centred around three themes: looking at a common policy for justice after the Lisbon treaty, a Europe for the family, and property rights and thinking on victims.

Opening the first session, the presidency invited discussion on a range of issues concerning co-operation in the justice area after the Lisbon treaty. All delegations highlighted the importance of effective working with the European Parliament, given its enhanced role in relation to legislation in criminal justice matters. Many delegations highlighted the importance of proper evaluation of existing and new legislation, and saw no reason to assume this should be an obstacle to progress (the UK saw synergies between evaluation and progress). There was a discussion about member state initiatives under the former third pillar. The Commission argued that these should be prepared with as much care as their own proposals. Other delegations spoke up in favour of appropriate consultation and preparation of impact assessments. As to third-country agreements, many delegations highlighted the need for careful co-ordination and information, notably in areas where external competence was shared.

During a discussion on the use of enhanced co-operation, most member states, including the UK, urged caution and emphasised that such measures should be used only as a last resort. Provided that proper procedures were followed, most accepted that at the moment, the most likely area for enhanced co-operation was choice of law in divorce.

During the session on a Europe for the family and property rights, the presidency invited discussion on three areas: succession and wills, matrimonial property regimes and Brussels I. On succession and wills they asked whether work in this area should focus on cross-border matters without affecting member states substantive law. Nearly all those member states who spoke agreed that the proposal should not affect substantive law, many of those arguing that there was no competence to deal with substantive succession law. The UK expressed regret that it had been unable to opt in to this proposal, agreed that substantive law should not be affected and said that national procedural law should also be respected.

The presidency then asked whether there was an urgent need for an instrument that clarified the law applicable to matrimonial property regimes. Five member states agreed an instrument was needed soon but others were more cautious. Some thought there was no urgent need; others thought it would be best first to see how the negotiations on succession and wills progressed. The UK thought the emphasis should be less on the urgency of the proposal but instead on a thorough analysis of the evidence base.

With regard to Brussels I, the presidency asked whether it was necessary to present a proposal as soon as possible on the revision of Brussels I that, with adequate guarantees, abolished exequatur. All who intervened and saw the revision of Brussels I as a priority, including the UK, agreed that the abolition of exequatur needed to proceed with sufficient protection, especially to debtors.

There was a discussion over lunch focusing on what more the EU could do to support victims. Lord Bach noted that we had significant recent experience in the field and were content to exchange best practice. The Spanish presidency said that they wanted to make progress on the draft proposal on a European protection order.