The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council is due to be held on 7 and 8 March in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and 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 is expected to be agreement on a proposed date of 9 April 2013 for the entry into operation of the European central second generation Schengen information system (SIS II). The UK supports this date and continues as scheduled for its integration into SIS II in the fourth quarter of 2014.
There will be a discussion on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen acquis. The UK will not vote on this item since the measure builds on the part of the Schengen agreement in which the UK does not participate.
There will be two items under Schengen governance, collectively known as the Schengen package; the temporary reintroduction of internal border controls in exceptional circumstances (the Schengen borders code (SBC) amendment) and political agreement on the Schengen evaluation mechanism (SEM). On SEM, the Council position agreed in June 2012 secures all UK negotiating objectives but it will not be agreed until a deal is reached on the SBC. The SBC file is currently in trilogue between the Council and the European Parliament. The UK will not vote on this item since the measure builds on the part of the Schengen agreement in which the UK does not participate. In addition we have yet to receive compromise texts that we can officially send to the parliamentary Committees.
The European Commission will present legislative proposals for a future EU entry/exit system alongside a registered traveller programme under the banner of “Smart Borders”. Each of these initiatives would apply only to third-country nationals crossing the external Schengen land, air and sea borders. The entry/exit system will register electronically the dates of entry and exit of all third-country nationals admitted for a short stay into the Schengen area. The registered traveller programme envisages that frequent third-country travellers, who have undergone successful pre-screening, would benefit from a facilitated border check into the Schengen area. The UK will not be able to take part in either component of the Smart Borders measures as they build on the part of the Schengen agreement in which the UK does not participate. However, there is value in the successful introduction of an entry/exit system that would enable better measurement and control of illegal migration.
Over lunch there will be a discussion on expected pressures arising from migratory flows over the next year, with Ministers discussing the EU’s approach to dealing with these pressures. The Government believe that any cohesive effort to deal with migratory pressures should include proper safeguards in relation to tackling illegal immigration and action to combat abuse of free movement rights.
During the main Council the EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, will present a paper on the security situation in the Sahel and the Maghreb, and the implications for EU internal security. The UK will argue that the threat needs both an international and regional response and will note that we have supported the UN Security Council Resolutions on Mali, as well as regional leadership from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, and EU training to help rebuild the Malian army.
Finally, the Commission will debrief on January’s high-level Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) conference entitled “Empowering local actors to counter violent extremism”. The RAN is a network across different disciplines of front-line counter-radicalisation work (RAN Health, RAN Police) which brings together practitioners to share knowledge and experience. The Irish presidency has indicated that it will seek adoption of Council conclusions on radicalisation and recruitment at June’s JHA Council.
The justice day will begin with an orientation debate on the general data protection regulation. The presidency will report on discussions at the Council working group on adopting a risk-based approach towards data protection. There may also be some discussion on providing member states with flexibility as regards the public sector.
The Commission will present its new proposal on the protection of the euro and other currencies against counterfeiting by criminal law. There will also be an orientation debate. This proposal builds on a framework decision, which would be repealed and replaced, aimed at deterring counterfeiting by further approximation of criminal law, including enhanced penalties. The directive was published on 6 February and the UK’s JHA opt-in protocol will apply.
The presidency will also seek to gain a general approach to some remaining issues and additional recitals on the proposed regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters. A partial general approach was achieved at the December Council. The Government support the overall policy aim of the proposal and have opted into it. The proposal has yet to clear scrutiny in either House.