I attended the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 17 and 18 November in Brussels.
On the evening of 17 November, the presidency hosted a meeting for Ministers, focused on migration. The main focus of discussion was the future of the common European asylum system and “effective solidarity”, which included discussions on moving away from relocation being considered the only way for member states to demonstrate solidarity. Ministers agreed to take forward further work on developing solidarity, although this is not relevant to the UK as the Government have already decided not to opt in to the new Dublin IV regulation, and on upstream engagement with third countries. I reiterated that the UK does not take part in the EU’s relocation and resettlement schemes.
The Council on 18 November began with the presidency inviting the Commission to set out its new proposal on a European travel and information authorisation system (ETIAS). The Commission indicated that the proposal aims to provide for greater security and border management by increasing the amount of information on non-visa nationals entering the Schengen area. Negotiations on the proposals will be taken forward by the relevant official-level Council working groups. As the UK is not in Schengen, we will not participate in this measure.
The Council continued with a focus on IT and data-sharing measures related to border management. All member states agreed to continue implementation of the Dutch data-sharing road map agreed at the June JHA Council. The Commission set out its future priorities for work in this area, including: better training; improving data quality; and upgrading existing systems. The Commission also indicated that it would be bringing forward two legislative proposals, one in December and one in June 2017, to upgrade the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II). The Commission’s priorities for upgrading SIS II include finger or palm-print alerts, facial recognition, counterfeit documents and effective Europol and European Border and Coast Guard access. I reiterated the need for progress on systematic sharing of criminal information, building on the excellent work in the joint UK-Latvia-Netherlands serious offending by mobile European criminals (SOMEC) report on mobile criminality, and improving data quality.
Ministers then discussed the fight against terrorism, taking note of progress in implementing existing EU Council conclusions on this issue, and ongoing activities to prevent and disrupt terrorist activity in the EU, particularly around travel for terrorist purposes.
The Commission set out a number of principles that support EU efforts to fight terrorism. These included the need for secure borders, information exchange between member states, and implementation of the passenger name record (PNR), counter-terrorism and firearm directives. I stressed the UK’s role as leader in PNR implementation within the EU and our willingness to share lessons learnt with partners. I also reminded member states of the importance of aviation security and the need to build on the momentum of UN resolution 2309 with the adoption of a European strategy.
In relation to the EU internet forum, Ministers discussed how to increase collaboration between industry and member states to prevent radicalisation by means of the internet, ahead of a ministerial meeting of the forum in December.
In a break in the plenary session Ministers discussed how to ensure effective co-operation between the non-EU counter-terrorism group (CTG) and Europol.