The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 3 and 4 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Justice and I, attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues were discussed at the Council:
The Council began with the Mixed Committee (including Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland). The Commission reported on implementation of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), presenting comprehensive global schedule for the entry into operation of SIS II in 2013.
The Council adopted conclusions encouraging member states to make more extensive use of automated border-control systems at their external borders. The UK will not participate in these automated systems, or the EU passport regulation on which the automated systems will be based, as they build on elements of the Schengen acquis in which we do not participate.
The Council received an update on the progress of the visa liberalisation road maps for the western Balkan countries agreed by the EU in 2009. The UK does not participate in EU common visa policy, as it builds on an area of the Schengen acquis in which the UK does not participate.
After the Mixed Committee, the presidency presented the first main assessment description report for internal debate (MADRID) on internal security in the EU. The report is based on a combination of threat assessments from Europol, Eurojust and Frontex on which the Council was invited to debate and consider priorities for future action. The UK intervened to outline that the UK Government wanted to play a strong and positive role in the EU. While recognising the importance of the Stockholm programme in setting strategic guidelines for our work there were some aspects of the programme which caused the UK Government concern. The UK gave as examples the idea of a European public prosecutor and a common asylum policy. The UK confirmed that it would consider whether or not to opt in to new legislative proposals resulting from the Stockholm programme on a case-by-case basis with the objective of preserving security, civil liberties and the integrity of the UK’s criminal justice system. On the MADRID report the UK noted that Europol’s OCTA threat assessment was important and should inform our work. There was a need to focus on non-legislative solutions: practical co-operation and sharing of best practices between member states.
Next there was a discussion on the most recent report from the EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator (CTC), Gilles de Kerchove, on the implementation of the EU strategy and action plan to combat terrorism. The report examined the nature of the threat, transportation security (especially in the field of land transport), monitoring of terrorist travel, and the connecting of internal and external security. Delegations intervened to support the report and the UK used the opportunity to outline the UK’s new national security arrangements, including the creation of the new National Security Council. The incoming Belgian presidency said that they would focus work on the prevention of radicalisation and the threat from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) material.
The Council then adopted the EU-US counter-terrorism declaration where the presidency noted the importance of the relationship between the EU and US.
The Council welcomed agreement to the “European Pact to combat international drug trafficking”, which is designed to enhance operational co-operation of EU countries in the fight against drug trafficking. The pact focuses on three broad areas of activity: disrupting cocaine routes; disrupting heroin routes; and tackling the money flows.
The presidency then provided an update on the EU-Russia JHA Permanent Partnership Council meeting of 25 and 26 May, which was held in Kazan. Discussion focused on possible EU-Russia visa liberalisation and migration dialogue.
Over lunch Interior Ministers received an update on the progress of negotiations with the US on the agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the terrorist finance tracking programme (TFTP). The Council agreed in May a negotiating mandate for the Commission to undertake negotiations with the US. The Commission hoped to present the text of an agreement later in June.
After lunch the Council adopted conclusions on unaccompanied minors, which outline proposals for handling the large numbers of unaccompanied children who enter the EU annually.
The Council then debated the follow-up to the EU pact on immigration and asylum, agreeing accompanying Council conclusions which will be presented to the June European Council. The UK said we had to increase public confidence by getting the right balance between immigration control, integration and protection. Resources should be prioritised on tackling migration challenges at source (overseas), making quick and fair asylum decisions, and enforcing the return of failed asylum seekers. Practical co-operation between member states was more important than harmonised legislation.
Under AOB, Malta said that a report by the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee supported their calls for further physical burden sharing. The Commission provided a progress report on negotiations of the EU readmission agreement with Turkey. The Czech Republic asked the Commission to update the Council on their negotiations with Canada to lift the current visa requirement on Czech citizens. Italy gave a short presentation on the meeting of the G6 Interior Ministers which it had hosted in Varese in May.
There was also under any other business, an item about the International Anti-Corruption Academy, at the request of the Austrians. The academy will be set up in Austria and a conference will be held in Vienna on 2 and 3 September 2010 on this.
On the justice day, a general approach was reached on the Commission proposal for a directive on combating human trafficking as the basis for the next stage of negotiations with the European Parliament. The Government are broadly content with this approach, although they have not yet decided whether to opt in and the proposal remains subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
The Commission presented a state-of-play report on the directive to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse and child pornography. The Commission emphasised the importance of this directive, in particular that it would criminalise “grooming” and enable prosecution without testimony from child victims.
There was a state-of-play report by the presidency on the proposed directive on interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. The presidency informed Ministers that the current text is the outcome of negotiations with the European Parliament.
There was also a discussion about the directive on the European protection order. Some member states raised their concerns about the legal base of the current text. The UK set out its reservations about the legal base but reiterated its support of the proposal’s objectives. The presidency has stated that it reached a general approach at this Council meeting. However, we and other member states dispute this given that there were enough member states who could not support the text to make up a blocking minority. There could be further discussions about this directive at the JHA Council in autumn.
The Council agreed, without a vote, to a proposal to authorise enhanced co-operation in the area of the law applicable to divorce and legal separation (also known as Rome III). The UK reminded the Council that it had decided not to participate in the original proposal, and, while it was highly unlikely that this position would change, it had no desire to prevent others who wished to proceed. Work on the draft regulation implementing enhanced co-operation in this area will continue under the Belgian presidency.
The presidency outlined the approach towards future work on a proposed regulation on succession and wills. These were agreed without discussion. The UK has not opted in to this proposal.
The Council adopted a negotiating mandate for discussions with the Council of Europe on the EU accession to the European convention of human rights. Those discussions are expected to start later in the year and will lead, in due course, to a proposed accession agreement which will have to be unanimously agreed by all member states.
The presidency then presented a state-of-play report on e-Justice work and the Commission confirmed that the e-Justice portal would be launched on 16 July.
The presidency updated the Council on the EU-Russia JHA Permanent Partnership Council meeting that took place 25 and 26 May 2010. The presidency considered this a good basis for the EU-Russia summit that took place 31 May and 1 June 2010.
Belgium listed their priorities for their upcoming presidency. This included continuing work on matters such as the European protection order, the protection of victims, succession and wills, as well as new work on the European investigation order.