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Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 598: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015

An informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council took place on 9 and 10 July in Luxembourg. I attended on the Interior day (9 July), and the UK was represented by senior officials on the Justice day (10 July). The following items were discussed.

The Interior day began with a discussion on counter terrorism, including a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the recent attacks in Tunisia and France.

Member states highlighted the serious and diverse nature of the terrorist threat and the role of social media and technology. One member state called for greater exchange of counter terrorist intelligence at EU rather than national level. Most, however, emphasised the national rather than EU nature of intelligence sharing in this area. A number of member states also called on the European Parliament to make progress on the passenger name records (PNR) directive.

I spoke of the recent cowardly attack in Tunisia, the need for member states to help that country and the importance of the EU providing funding to assist with that effort. I stressed that national security is a matter solely for member states. I also called on member states to engage with their MEPs ahead of the European Parliament vote on the PNR directive.

The meeting then received a number of presentations on cyber security and terrorism. The Commission highlighted the role of Europol and the importance of public-private partnerships. It also stressed the work it was doing at EU level to protect critical national infrastructure.

The informal Council then moved on to migration issues. The Presidency announced that member states (together with participants in the Schengen system who are not EU members) had agreed to resettle approximately 20,000 refugees from outside the EU, following the Commission’s recent recommendation.

I explained that the UK expects to resettle approximately 2,200 people in need of international protection over the next two years, and that this includes a modest expansion of our Syria vulnerable persons scheme. I emphasised that the actual number would be needs based rather than target driven, and that we would decide for ourselves how many people to resettle. The UK will not participate in any European resettlement scheme or in any EU quota system for resettlement.

Discussions then took place on implementing the June European Council’s decision to relocate 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other member states on a voluntary basis. These discussions will resume at a special JHA Council meeting in Brussels on 20 July. The UK will not participate in this relocation scheme.

In the migration discussions, I highlighted the need for a holistic approach to the situation which avoided creating additional pull factors. I also emphasised the UK’s support for the Europol JOT- MARE regional task force to tackle the migrant smugglers and traffickers.

Justice day began with a discussion of the draft Directive on the protection of the Union’s financial interests under criminal law (“PIF Directive”). The Presidency sought member states’ views on whether fraud affecting VAT should be included within the scope either of the Directive or of the proposed European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). This issue has led to stalemate in negotiations between the Council and European Parliament.

The overwhelming majority of member states opposed the inclusion of VAT in the scope of the PIF Directive, though some were willing to explore including it within the proposed EPPO. The UK opposed its inclusion in either measure, while making it clear that we will not participate in any EPPO.

Discussion then moved to the proposed EPPO itself. The Presidency sought member states’ views on the authorisations that should be required from national courts before the EPPO can commence cross-border investigations, and the competence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to rule on the EPPO’s procedural acts. The majority of participating member states agreed that authorisation from the courts in one member state should be sufficient for cross-border investigations, and that the ECJ should have some limited jurisdiction over the proposed EPPO.

This was followed by discussion on the Brussels IIa Regulation on conflict of law issues in family law, where the Presidency invited member states to comment on priorities for the Commission’s forthcoming proposals. The Presidency proposed that the revision should focus on the aspects of the Regulation relating to children, and should cover the free circulation of judgments, the procedure for an effective and swift return of abducted children, and co-operation between central authorities. The Commission, the European Parliament and the fundamental rights agency highlighted the importance of this measure, particularly in the protection of vulnerable children.

While there was overwhelming support for the revision of the Regulation, including the proposed areas of focus, there was no consensus on the abolition of the process by which judgments or orders from one member state are declared enforceable in another (the exequatur procedure). It was agreed by all that the best interests of the child must be paramount in decisions on return, and member states supported better co operation between central authorities. The UK highlighted the need to respect different legal systems, and the importance of safeguards in any revision. The UK also highlighted that improvements could be made in relation to divorce proceedings. The Presidency concluded that the discussion had shown the usefulness of Brussels IIa and that the revision should provide more legal certainty, with the interests of the child at the centre.

Under any other business, the Commission set out its intentions on handling infringement proceedings in respect of EU legislation on judicial co operation in criminal matters. The Commission noted that many instruments were still not fully transposed or the information submitted by member states was incomplete. It would therefore be proactive in taking further action in the autumn, including with pilot cases for non-notification and non-compliance.