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Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 4 December 2013

The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council is due to be held on 5 and 6 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following items will be discussed.

The Council will begin in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland—non-EU Schengen states—where Ministers will consider the latest situation in relation to Romania and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen acquis.

That will be followed by a debate on the latest Commission report on the functioning of the Schengen area. This item is considered by the Council every six months following a debate on Schengen governance at the 2011 June European Council. While we only participate in the police and criminal justice elements of Schengen, having chosen to retain our own border controls, the UK has an interest in its wider functioning due to the impact on the UK of illegal immigration transiting Schengen states.

During the main Council there will be a discussion on the EU’s response to the Lampedusa tragedy, with a report from the new Commission-led “Task Force Mediterranean”, which is developing a coherent set of measures to tackle dangerous sea crossings by migrants attempting to reach the EU. The Government are pleased with the work of the taskforce to date and want to ensure that it remains focused on preventative action in third countries, including by combating people smugglers.

The Commission will present its final report on free movement abuse, requested by the Council in June. The Commission’s communication, published on 25 November, outlines the current legal framework and sets out five existing actions previously announced by Commissioner Reding in October, including work on a handbook to tackle sham marriage, clarifying the habitual residence test and increasing European social funds available for integration. The Government plan to express their disappointment that the Commission continues to fail to take seriously the concerns raised by member states about fraud and abuse, and press for further action.

The Council will return to the issue of the potential threat posed by foreign fighters, with a discussion around ideas to be presented by the EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove. We expect these to focus on four key areas: information exchange, preventative action, criminal justice response and co-operation with third countries. The UK has sought to inform this work drawing on our experience in taking forward our domestic counter-terrorism strategy, Contest.

We understand that there will be a discussion on both days on strategic guidelines on future work in the area of justice and home affairs. The Government welcome substantive debate on this issue since they take the view that member states must use this opportunity to set the direction for future work in this area, with the JHA Council closely involved in preparing, and subsequently overseeing implementation of, the new guidelines. The Government support a shorter, more strategic set of guidelines than in previous work programmes, focusing on the full and effective implementation of the legislation that has already been adopted, and practical co-operation in priority areas, as opposed to new legislation or a detailed list of measures to be adopted. The Government’s priority areas for EU action are: preventing the abuse of free movement rights; strengthening the EU’s external borders; action against modern slavery; more effective return of foreign prisoners to their country of origin; and improved exchange of criminal records.

Under AOB there will be presentations from the incoming Greek presidency on its work programme and from the presidency on current legislative proposals and the outcome of the EU-US justice and home affairs ministerial meeting. In the margins of the Council a—non-binding—political declaration for the new mobility partnership with Tunisia has been scheduled for signature by participating member states. The UK will participate.

The justice day will begin with a discussion on the concept of the one-stop shop mechanism contemplated in the draft data protection regulation. The presidency has indicated its wish to reach a partial general approach on those aspects, though it is possible the Council will conclude that this would be premature.

The Council will be aiming for general approach on the European account preservation order to facilitate cross-border debt recovery in civil and commercial matters. The UK has not opted in to this proposal because of concerns about whether defendants’ interests were sufficiently safeguarded.

The presidency will facilitate an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council regulation on insolvency proceedings.

This will be followed by a discussion aimed at achieving a general approach on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulation 1215/2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (Brussels I) to allow the new unified patent court to be recognised as a court for the purposes of the regulation.

There will be information by the presidency on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a common European sales law.

On non-legislative activities, there will be a presentation by the Commission and exchange of views on the justice related aspect of 2014 European semester, including the “Justice Scoreboard”.

The Council will seek to adopt three sets of Council conclusions: on the evaluation of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the EU Citizenship Report 2013 and on combating hate crime.

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

The presidency will also provide an update on work achieved on e-justice during its term and will be seeking agreement on a strategy for this work as it goes forward.