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Justice and Home Affairs Council (Pre-Council Statement)

Volume 563: debated on Wednesday 5 June 2013

The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council is due to be held on 6 and 7 June 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 the presidency is expected to report significant progress on the Schengen evaluation mechanism and make a statement on the latest compromise package. The UK’s priority has been to ensure the UK’s participation in the mechanism, and retention of a peer- to-peer process as the basis for the mechanism, as agreed by the Council in June 2012. The presidency will also present the latest Commission report on the functioning of the Schengen area.

Next, Greece will update the Council on progress in implementing the Greek action plan on asylum and migration management. The UK supports Greece’s efforts to reform its asylum and migration system, and notes the significant progress made in reducing illegal immigration at the Greece-Turkey land border. However, more rapid and effective action is needed to address issues around the availability and use of EU funding, access to asylum procedures, and Greek operational capacity on the Aegean islands.

Over a working lunch there will be a discussion of free movement, which the presidency intends to report back to the Council plenary. This follows a request for a substantive discussion from the UK in a joint letter co-signed by Interior Ministers from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. The UK will voice its concerns about the impacts of abuse of free movement and benefit tourism by EU and third-country nationals and will urge the Council to work together to tackle these issues.

During the main Council there will be an update on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The UK has opted in to the Dublin (III) regulation and the new Eurodac (II) proposal, but not the recast directives on asylum reception conditions, procedures and qualifications. Dublin (III) will be put forward for adoption at the Council. Eurodac (II) will be put forward for “political agreement” with adoption likely later in June. We are content with both.

The Council will be updated on progress in reaching agreement on the proposed legal migration directives on conditions of entry and stay for third-country national intra-corporate transferees and on seasonal workers. The UK has not opted in to these measures. The Council will also be provided with an update on initial discussions on the recently published proposal for a new directive on the entry and stay of third-country national students and researchers. The Government will be making a decision on whether it will opt in to this measure in due course.

There will be an orientation debate on the proposal for a new Europol legal base, also encompassing CEPOL, where the UK will highlight the risk of mandatory obligations to share information with Europol, to seek clarity that Europol cannot order investigations and reiterate the UK’s objection to the Europol/CEPOL merger.

There will be a discussion on foreign fighters and the threat they pose if and when they return to Europe. While not a new issue, the situation in Syria is attracting significant numbers of EU citizens who have various reasons for engaging in the conflict. The UK welcomes the opportunity to discuss with member states how individuals are engaging with extremists while overseas, the extent to which they may develop the intent and capability to conduct an attack against the UK/Europe as well as the risk of radicalising others upon their return. The UK supports the work that the EU CT co-ordinator has been doing to understand the scale of the problem, and agrees that there is value in enhancing our understanding of how others are addressing the problem and how we can work collectively in mitigating this potential threat.

There will also be a discussion on the protection of refugees from Syria during which the UK will reiterate its interest in joining the Regional Protection Programme (RPP) steering committee.

There will be a presentation by the Commission on their communication “Maximising the Development Impact of Migration: the EU contribution for the UN High-level Dialogue and next steps towards broadening the development-migration nexus”.

Under AOB there will be a presentation by Lithuania of the incoming presidency programme and a presentation by Sweden on the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). Hungary will update on recent developments with the Budapest process (an intergovernmental forum on migration) and the presidency will use this opportunity to update on the recent fifth ministerial conference that took place on 19 April in Istanbul, launching the new Silk Routes Partnership on migration, on which the Budapest process will now focus. The UK is committed to its participation in the Silk Routes Partnership. The UK is leading a “bridging project”, ahead of the commencement of EU funding, to ensure the momentum generated by the ministerial conference is maintained, and that the new partnership is focused on concrete practical co-operation initiatives.

The justice day will begin with a discussion on key issues on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data. The presidency has issued a “key issues” paper with seven draft conclusions as well as a further redraft of the whole of chapters I-IV of the text. The presidency will also look to gain political agreement on some elements of the text.

The Council will be aiming for a general approach on a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law.

This will be followed by an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council creating a European account preservation order to facilitate cross-border debt recovery in civil and commercial matters. The UK has not opted in to this proposal due to a number of concerns, the main concern being the lack of protection for debtors in what can be a draconian procedure.

There will also be an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council regulation on insolvency proceedings. The UK is in support of this proposal.

The Commission will present the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on promoting the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the European Union and the introduction of common format, multi-lingual public documents. The document seeks to promote the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the EU.

On non-legislative activities, there will be a discussion of the Council conclusions on how to support fundamental rights and the rule of law, where it is likely that adoption of the conclusions will be sought in the member states. The UK has long been a champion of rule of law values throughout the world but would want to be satisfied that any action at EU level genuinely added value to existing mechanisms, for example in the Council of Europe, and is not persuaded that there is any need for new EU competences in this area.

There will be a presentation by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction (EMCDDA) on the EU Drugs Strategy Action Plan 2013-2017, which is scheduled for adoption.

The presidency will give a state of play update on the accession of the European Union to the European convention on human rights.

The presidency will also provide an update on work achieved during its term on e-Justice, a project which seeks to improve access to justice across borders through the use of IT.

Under AOB the presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals, including the progress of the proposed regulations on matrimonial property regimes and the property consequences of registered partnerships. Given that the UK does not have similar property regimes for married couples or civil partners, we have not opted in to either proposal.

The Lithuanian delegation will then provide the Council with a presentation on their programme for the presidency, which is due to start in July.