The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 25 and 26 February 2010 in Brussels. My noble Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Bach and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues were discussed at the Council.
The interior day began with a presentation by Cecilia Malmström, the new Commissioner for Home Affairs, on her forthcoming priorities, which included publishing the results of a study of measures already in place on passenger name records (PNR), which had been promised to the European Parliament, and a new proposal on EU PNR. The Government welcomed the Commissioner’s commitment to the PNR initiative and looked forward to seeing a proposal—in March if possible—highlighting that this should also cover intra-EU flights.
Following this, the Council agreed the internal security strategy (ISS) without amendment. President Van Rompuy had agreed to bring the strategy to the spring European Council. The Government strongly support the ISS, particularly references to an EC organised crime strategy.
The presidency updated the Council on the first COSI (Standing Committee on operational co-operation on internal security) meeting, which will take place on 11 March. Member states identified five key objectives for this committee: a partly operational and partly strategic role; co-ordinating the various agencies in the EU; assuming the functions of the Police Chiefs’ task force; assessing the effectiveness of existing legislative instruments; and providing the Council with regular reports on internal security. The Government have supported the creation of COSI and look forward to its first meeting.
The presidency presented the first draft of the European Pact On International Drug Trafficking. The Government supported this initiative emphasising the need to ensure tangible output, proactive engagement with third countries, a focus on the East to tackle the supply chain, including those responsible at the top, and to take into account ongoing activity and the EU drugs action plan. Work will be taken forward at expert-level working groups, with the intention of agreeing the pact by the end of the Spanish presidency.
The Council discussed briefly the next steps in resolving the Czech Republic-Canada visa situation. An experts’ meeting would take place on 15 March; the Commission urged Canada and the Czech Republic to solve their visa dispute before reporting back to the April JHA Council.
A restricted session looked at the next steps for the US terrorist tracking finance programme, following the European Parliament’s decision to reject the Council decision to conclude the EU-US agreement (SWIFT). Both Justice and Interior Ministers agreed that they wanted a new permanent agreement between the EU and US as soon as possible.
Over lunch, Interior Ministers discussed the current Libya-Switzerland visa dispute. The presidency said events had significantly improved over the previous 10 days, with the short-term goal being the release of the remaining Swiss citizen in prison. Longer term, the requirement would be to address the link between Schengen arrangements and relationships with third countries.
After lunch, the Mixed Committee (with non-EU Schengen States) had a brief discussion on the Schengen Information System II (SIS II). A statement, included in the Council minutes and agreed by member states, indicated that a decision on the future of SIS II would be taken at the April JHA Council following analysis of the results of the first milestone test in January. The presidency and Commission would take all steps necessary to ensure that the required information was made available in order to make a well-informed decision. The Government highlighted that if a decision were taken to terminate SIS II, member states needed to ensure that any chosen alternative had to be a viable option.
The presidency presented draft conclusions on measures for reinforcing the protection of the external border and combating illegal immigration. The Government said this was an important long-term issue for all member states and emphasised co-operation with third countries and combating organised illegal crime as priorities. Successful projects with Turkey and Libya had demonstrated what could be achieved to prevent illegal border crossing but the EU needs also to complement this with increased efforts on returns.
The Commission introduced new draft legislation to strengthen Frontex. The Government welcomed Frontex’s work to date and hoped the new instrument would include measures to enable our officers to continue to participate in joint operations. The Government also looked forward to Frontex doing more work in assisting returns in future and welcomed stronger Frontex co-operation with third countries, but regretted the lack of a provision to use personal data (which was critical in tackling the criminal gangs facilitating illegal migration). The Commission said it would carry out an overview of the EU-wide data exchange infrastructure before proposing anything concrete on personal data exchange for Frontex.
Finally, the Frontex executive director gave a presentation on the current situation at the EU’s external border and new work programme initiatives for 2010.
During the day the Council also adopted the A points where the UK national member to Eurojust, Aled Williams, was confirmed as the new president of Eurojust. Malta was agreed as the site of the European asylum support office.
The justice day began with the new Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice, Viviane Reding, deliver a short presentation of her work. The presidency then outlined the state of play on the negotiations on a proposed directive on the European protection order, designed to protect victims of domestic violence. The Government confirmed their support for the objectives of the proposal and thanked the presidency for its work.
The presidency then provided Justice Ministers with information about the state of play on the negotiations on the proposed directive on interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. The Government support this proposal and, following a discussion, the presidency concluded that it would give priority to reaching a rapid agreement.
The Council adopted the updated model agreement on joint investigation teams (JITs). The Government fully support this agreement which is based on practical experience and good practice.
During a presentation and debate on EU accession to the European convention of human rights, the presidency emphasised their intention to move the accession process along as quickly as possible. The Government, and all other member states that intervened, expressed support for accession as soon as possible and for early agreement on an appropriate mandate for negotiations with the Council of Europe.