The first (informal) meeting of EU Interior and Justice Ministers during the Maltese presidency took place on 26 and 27 January in Valletta. The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), and I represented the UK.
Interior day began on 26 January with a discussion on reform of the common European asylum system. I intervened to reiterate the benefits of separating the proposed relocation mechanism for redistributing asylum seekers between member states from the draft revised Dublin regulation—which the Government have not opted into—and to support activity, including engagement with third countries, aimed at controlling inward migration flows. Ministers agreed to take forward further work to define “solidarity mechanisms”, and on upstream engagement with third countries.
In the afternoon Ministers discussed IT systems for borders and security. There was broad support for the use of biometric data for law enforcement and border security purposes. I reiterated the Government’s call for more proactive sharing of criminal records and to encourage practical solutions, but warned that proposals for a single EU repository/system for fingerprint and DNA data may infringe on member state competence.
In the margins of the meeting, the Policing Minister and I held a number of discussions with other member states on issues including the extension of passenger name records (PNR) exchanges to high-speed rail links, and on the impact of the recent judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJE) in the Watson/TELE 2 case. Member states agreed to work together to make progress in addressing both issues.
On Justice day, Ministers held an exchange of views on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) and moved towards agreeing in principle a text that can subsequently be taken forward by member states under enhanced co-operation. The UK did not intervene in this discussion as we will not participate in the EPPO. The next General Affairs Council (7 Feb) will be asked to agree to ask the European Council whether this measure can be pursued under enhanced co-operation.
This was followed by discussion on a proposed insolvency directive to harmonise insolvency standards. The Policing Minister intervened to support the broad objectives of the measure, which reflect many existing principles of insolvency law in the United Kingdom, but highlighted that we still needed to analyse the detail of the measure. Most member states who spoke cautioned against over-harmonisation as this is an area where national laws and practices diverge.
Over lunch, the Commission presented its new draft legislation aimed at tackling money laundering and terrorist financing. The Policing Minister expressed support of the aims of the legislation as our criminal law is already in line with the proposal harmonising criminal offences and penalties. However, he reminded member states that the UK’s general position on refusing to be limited by EU common rules in relation to criminal law means we may not choose to opt in.