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Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 551: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council is due to be held on 25 and 26 October in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.

The Council will begin in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states) where there will be an update on the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II). The UK will continue to reiterate its support for the continuation of the current SIS II project. The Commission has committed to deliver the central element of SIS II in early 2013.

Next the Council will note a short update from the presidency on Bulgarian and Romanian accession to the Schengen acquis.

Greece, the Commission, Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office will provide an update on progress in implementing Greece’s national action plan on asylum reform and migration management. The Council will be asked to note that the action plan will be revised ahead of December’s JHA Council and, following the recommendation of various member states including the UK, we anticipate it will incorporate benchmarks to enable sustainable progress towards Greece establishing a functional asylum and migration system. The UK welcomes this development and the recent momentum in tackling migratory pressures in Greece, but hopes that the operational expertise of member states will be fully utilised in the setting of benchmarks, and in implementing the revised action plan.

The Commission and Frontex will provide presentations on latest illegal immigration trends. This will provide an opportunity for member states to highlight current priorities on tackling illegal immigration as set out in the road map on EU action on migratory pressures. Like other member states, the UK considers it important that illegal immigration remains a Council priority, and believes the road map must continue to be a tool that drives action rather than a bureaucratic process. The UK is one of the co-drivers of action on abuse of free movement by third-country nationals, as set out in the road map, and we continue to work with other member states, the Commission and EU partners seeking further practical progress in this area.

There will be an exchange of views around the third report on the post-visa liberalisation monitoring for the western Balkan countries in accordance with the Commission statement of 8 November 2010. This concerns the decision to grant visa-free travel to citizens of the western Balkan countries. The purpose of the third report is to present the actions undertaken under the post-visa liberalisation monitoring mechanism following the first and second Commission staff working papers in May and December 2011; to assess the progress made in the relevant Western Balkan countries after the last assessment (December 2011); and to identify the next steps and the concrete actions to be taken. Although the UK will not implement any of the changes following visa liberalisation, we can support the Commission’s approach in seeking to use visa liberalisation agreements as a way of encouraging the adoption of measures laid out in the visa dialogue road maps. The UK also supports the measures being introduced to combat abuse following the introduction of visa liberalisation agreements.

Over lunch there will be a discussion on intra-EU relocation of beneficiaries of international protection. The UK will emphasise the importance of practical co-operation as the expression of “solidarity” rather than relocation, and the need to ensure any proposal for action in this area does not go ahead until it can be demonstrated that the lessons of the previous project (in Malta) have been learnt.

The main Council will start with a “state of play” discussion on the civil protection mechanism. The UK would want to restrict the role of the Commission and encourage a risk-based approach to disaster risk management while retaining primary responsibility with member states. The UK also supports the concept of a voluntary pool of assets while ensuring that any common funding is limited to areas where there is demonstrable added value.

There will be a “state of play” discussion on the common European asylum system (CEAS). The presidency are keen to make as much progress as possible on the CEAS by the end of the year. The UK has opted in to the Dublin (III) regulation and the new Eurodac proposal. The UK has not opted in to the three other directives.

There will also be a state of play discussion on the establishment of a regional protection programme in response to the Syrian crisis. The presidency remains highly concerned about the situation in Syria and is keen to ensure that the EU helps neighbouring countries build their capacity to host any resulting refugees. They will be seeking Council agreement for the establishment of a regional protection programme for Syria. The UK is supportive of this in principle, while cautious about the detail of such a proposal, particularly if a significant resettlement element is envisaged.

The presidency will be seeking to adopt the Council conclusions on the protection of soft targets from terrorist activities. While the conclusions do not identify any new areas of work which are not already under way under CONTEST (the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism), international collaboration is essential and we support the presidency’s initiative, particularly in relation to the sharing of experience and best practice in protecting soft targets.

An implementation report is also being presented to the Council for adoption on enhancing the links between internal and external aspects of counter-terrorism. This capitalises on the opportunity to bring together the aims and activities of the internal and external aspects of counter-terrorism in the EU. The UK endorses the draft implementation plan and is pleased to note that our comments have been incorporated into the revised document. In both of these initiatives the UK has stressed that national security is a member state competence.

Under any other business there will be a presentation by the Commission on the illicit trafficking of firearms. The Council will also be updated on the European border surveillance system (EUROSUR) regulation, Schengen governance proposals and the EU Visa Regulation (539).

The justice day will begin with a state of play update and an orientation debate on the proposed draft directive creating minimum standards on the freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime. The aim of the directive is to establish minimum standards in the freezing and confiscation of the proceeds and instrumentalities of crime in the EU. The proposed directive was last discussed at Council level at the informal meeting in July. The UK has not opted in to the proposed directive but will look to engage in the negotiations with a view to considering opting in at the post-adoption stage. The Cypriot presidency are committed to making substantial progress on the directive during their presidency.

The presidency will provide a state of play update which will be followed by an orientation debate on the proposal on criminal sanctions for insider dealing and market manipulation. The aims of the proposal are to establish minimum EU rules concerning the definition of criminal offences of market abuse—namely, insider dealing and market manipulation. The directive also seeks to complement the broader framework for tackling market abuse, which is provided for in the larger accompanying market abuse regulation. A partial general approach was agreed at the April JHA Council earlier this year. The UK has not opted in to this directive.

The Commission will be making a presentation on its proposed directive on the protection of the financial interests of the EU by criminal law (“the PFI directive”) which it published in 23 July this year. The draft directive would repeal and replace the existing EU convention and protocols on protection of financial interests (PFI). It proposes measures that aim to improve the equivalence and effectiveness of protection of the EU’s financial interests by criminal law sanctions.

A state of play report will also be given on the proposed regulation on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free flow of such data. The Commission published new legislative proposals for data protection in January which consist of a regulation and a directive. The proposed regulation will set out a general EU framework for data protection which would replace the existing Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC). This was last discussed at this level at the July informal Council.

Under non-legislative items the presidency will also be discussing the recommendations on the fifth report on mutual evaluations on financial crime and financial investigations. The report forms the latest of a series of mutual evaluations of how member states have carried out their obligations in the fight against organised crime.

Also under non-legislative items there will be a presentation on the state of the drug problem in Europe by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).