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Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 576: debated on Thursday 27 February 2014

The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council is due to be held on 3 and 4 March in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland is also due to attend on behalf of the Scottish Administration. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.

The Interior day of the Council will start with a general state of play update from the presidency on the Europol negotiation. The presidency are also expected to seek agreement from the Council to remove the provisions in the Europol text relating to European Police College (CEPOL). This would secure formal agreement not to proceed with the Commission’s proposed merger of the two agencies. The UK will support this position and there is expected to be a strong overall consensus in favour of opposing the merger.

There will be a discussion on the EU’s future JHA programme, which will replace the current Stockholm programme. This exchange of views will focus on the Commission’s forthcoming communication, which will not be published until after Council. The UK will press for more clarity on the next steps towards developing a strong JHA Council contribution to the new programme, which should include key priorities such as a strong commitment to tackle free movement abuse and modern slavery.

The Council will be updated on current migratory pressures, with presentations from Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office. The pressures stemming from the Syrian crisis are of particular importance here, in particular the situation in Bulgaria, which has been under particular pressure in recent months. This item will be followed by discussion on the Task Force Mediterranean, which was convened by the Commission following the tragedy off Lampedusa last October. The UK participated in the taskforce meetings, which led to a set of coherent proposals for concrete action to prevent further migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. At this Council we understand that the Commission will set out an action plan for implementation, which will require the co-operation of the member states, European External Action Service and EU agencies. The UK will reiterate its support for this work; we are currently developing plans for our contribution in conjunction with other European partners.

Over lunch, practical co-operation on the area of returns will be discussed.

During the mixed committee there will be an update on the proposed data protection directive which covers areas of police co-operation and judicial co-operation in criminal matters and would replace the existing data protection framework decision 2008/977/JHA. The UK’s priority is to ensure the right of access to, and to erase, personal data does not prejudice or hinder criminal investigations or proceedings.

During AOB there will be an update by the Commission on the implementation of the new financial programmes for 2014-20 for home affairs. The presidency may also wish to discuss the draft directives on intra-corporate transfers and student researchers.

The justice day will begin with information from the presidency on a number of current proposals. First, the European account preservation order to facilitate cross-border debt recovery in civil and commercial matters which the UK has not so far opted into, given our concerns about the adverse impact on debtors. The Council will then be updated on the regulation amending the “Brussels I” regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. This is a technical amendment, fully supported by the UK, to set the rules governing jurisdiction for the Unified Patent Court. Finally the Council will receive an update on the proposal for a regulation amending the Council regulation on insolvency proceedings, which is a key measure for growth and the UK broadly supports the Commission’s proposal.

The presidency will next facilitate a state of play/orientation debate on the proposal for a Council regulation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Government continue to oppose this measure and agree with Parliament that the Commission has on this occasion breached the principle of subsidiarity.

This will be followed by an orientation debate on the recently published proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on procedural safeguards for children suspected or accused in criminal proceedings. The presidency is expected to try to establish some guidance to inform the expert-level negotiations. The Government have offered time in March for the House of Commons to debate the question of the UK’s opt-in regarding this proposal.

There will be a state of play/orientation debate on the proposal for a general data protection regulation. The UK continues to believe that this proposal is far from ready for a general agreement, and that no such agreement can occur until the text as a whole has been approved. The proposal remains burdensome on both public and private sector organisations and the Government would not want to see inflexible rules on transfers outside the European economic area which do not reflect the realities of the modern, interconnected world.

Over lunch there will be a discussion on the ways and means to promote the simplification and acceptance of public documents: expectations by the citizens and business.

On non-legislative activities, the Commission will present its 2014 anti-corruption report, which we broadly welcome, to the Council. There will then be a presentation of the Commission’s communication on the future development in the JHA area where the UK, as mentioned before, will push for a strong Council contribution, including a focus on better targeted legislation, consolidation where necessary, and ensuring that the EU prisoner transfer agreement is fully implemented by member states. The Council will then seek to adopt conclusions on justice systems in the European Union. The UK supports these conclusions which highlight the deficiencies of the justice scoreboard approach to monitoring national justice systems and suggest a more collaborative dialogue between member states. This will be followed by a presentation by the Commission on the 2014 justice scoreboard itself, expected for publication in March. Justice day will end with a presentation by the Commission on the 6th annual EU disability high-level group report on the implementation of the UN convention on the rights of person with disabilities.