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Justice and Home Affairs Post-Council Statement

Volume 516: debated on Thursday 14 October 2010

The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 7 and 8 October 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 first measure on the roadmap, the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, was adopted by the Council as an A point. The directive sets minimum standards as regards interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings throughout the European Union. The aim of the proposal is to ensure that, if suspects and defendants do not understand or speak the language used, they are entitled to interpretation from the time they are made aware that they are suspected or accused until the proceedings reach their conclusion, including any appeal. Suspected or accused persons will also be entitled to have some essential documents translated, so they can fully understand the case against them.

The interior session began with the Commission introducing two legal migration proposals: (i) a directive establishing the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals entering the EU through an intra-company transfer and (ii) a directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of seasonal employment. The directives were intended to respond to labour market needs, boost EU competitiveness and tackle illegal immigration. Neither directive created a right to admission. The presidency stated that negotiations would continue in working groups on both directives to find solutions to member states’ concerns. The UK will decide whether to opt into the proposals by the 15 October.

Following this there was a political discussion on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) where the presidency reminded member states that the 2012 deadline was approaching. The presidency was committed to moving forward on the Dublin and Eurodac regulations and long-term residents and qualification directives. The UK stated that it did not favour further legislation and preferred a focus on practical co-operation, and confirmed that it was committed to work at a practical level to spread best practice and ensure solidarity. The UK was already involved in capacity-building for asylum decision making in member states, and was prepared to do more. The UK highlighted that the time was right for the Commission to demonstrate strong leadership to co-ordinate these efforts, to ensure an effective delivery mechanism while undertaking more work with countries of origin. The Commission confirmed that the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) would be able to start work in January and that the work programme and the budget were being developed.

During the Interior Ministers lunch, Ministers discussed the recent travel advice issued by the United States. Jane Lute, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, attended. She stated that the recent advice on travel to Europe was issued in order for the US public to be more vigilant. She explained that in the US they increasingly shared information with the public and private sector.

Following Jane Lute’s departure Ministers discussed EU threat alerts. There was a widespread view that member states would be responsible for their own assessments, but there was a broad view that member states should give pre-notification of changes to EU colleagues.

After lunch the Council in Mixed Committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states) received an update from the Commission that the EU visa information system (VIS) would not be ready in time for the planned go-live date of December 2010. Member states had agreed it would now be rolled out in June 2011. The delay had been caused by problems with the contractor and in member states’ preparations. The UK does not participate in VIS as it builds on an area of the Schengen Acquis in which the UK does not participate.

Next there was a discussion on visa reciprocity in the context of the Canadian decision to reintroduce visas for Czech nationals. The Commission stated that further discussion should wait until after they issued a report on visa reciprocity, due by the end of the year.

The Commission presented a progress report and an updated comprehensive global schedule and budgetary estimate for the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II), during which it reiterated some of the reasons for the delay including the change in specification by the Council. On the issue of increased national costs, the Commission stated that it was still consulting internally on the use of the external border fund.

After Mixed Committee the Council held an orientation debate on the negotiation of passenger name record (PNR) agreements with the US, Canada and Australia. The Commission explained that the PNR package aimed to establish a coherent framework for the exchange of data with third countries and proposed that negotiations with all three countries should start at the same time. The UK supported this approach and welcomed the Commission’s recognition that PNR was a crucial tool in the fight against terrorism and organised crime and was looking forward to seeing the EU PNR directive appear in January 2011. The UK stated that it strongly believed that early publication of an instrument which covered intra-EU flights was vital to the safety and security of EU citizens. The Commission said it would propose the new EU PNR directive early next year.

The Commission presented its Communication on EU Counter-terrorism (CT) policy: main achievements and future challenges, which provided a summary of EU activity since the launch of the EU CT Strategy in 2005. One finding was that the threat from terrorism was still live. The EU had not had a major terrorist attack since 2005, not because no attempt had been made, but because those responsible for our security had done a very good job.

The Commission also presented its communication on information management and stated the purpose of the exercise was to provide overview of the various important information systems which existed, such as the terrorist finance tracking programme and the data retention directive.

During AOB, the Commission provided details of the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Libya and there was a discussion on the framework agreement with that country. The UK underlined the importance of consulting and involving member states in this kind of initiative.

The justice session began with a debate about the criminal law articles (articles 1-13, except article 10) in the draft directive on combating sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography. This directive seeks to ensure that criminal activities to sexually exploit children, including misuse of the internet, are more fully covered than in the existing framework decision (2004). The UK maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reserve on the text but gave its general support for the proposal. The Commission noted that the European Parliament had not yet indicated its position, so it would defend its proposal but would engage constructively in negotiations. The presidency confirmed that negotiations on the remaining articles would continue with a view to agreeing a general approach on the entire text at the December JHA Council.

The Commission then gave a presentation on the draft directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings. This proposal is the second measure in the roadmap to strengthen procedural rights in criminal proceedings. It aims to set common minimum standards and improve the rights of suspects and accused persons by ensuring that they receive information about their rights. The UK supported the concept of a letter of rights and agreed that it was essential for suspects and defendants to be made aware of their rights. The UK has yet to confirm whether it will be opting into this draft directive.

Next, the presidency provided an update on progress in the European Parliament on the European Protection Order, a measure designed to protect victims moving from one member state to another. The European Parliament had an orientation vote in committee which indicated support for a broad scope covering civil as well as criminal measures. It would seek to make progress in the Council on this complex proposal.

The presidency then provided an information point on negotiations on the proposed regulation implementing enhanced co-operation in the field of law applicable to divorce—Rome III. The UK is not participating in this measure and noted the update.

During lunch. Ministers held an exchange of views about the judicial dimension of the fight against terrorism. The Commission stressed the importance of devoting sufficient funding to measures to combat terrorism.