The first formal Justice and Home Affairs Council of the Maltese presidency will take place on 27 and 28 March in Brussels. The Home Secretary, and I will represent the UK.
Interior day (27 March) will begin with a discussion on IT measures related to border management. The presidency will provide a progress update on negotiations on the European Travel and Information Authorisation System (ETIAS) proposal and the Entry/Exit System (EES) proposal. The Government recognise the importance of increasing the security of the EU’s external borders, however as the UK is not part of the border control aspects of the Schengen agreement it will not take part in either proposal. This item will be followed by a progress update from the presidency on the implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). Again, the UK will not take part in the new agency. However, we will continue to provide support to its operations on a voluntary basis, as we have done with its predecessor.
Interior day will continue with a debate on the EU’s returns policy. The Commission will present an action plan to improve the effectiveness of returns from EU member states to third countries, and a recommendation for enhanced implementation of the returns directive. The UK does not participate in the returns directive but welcomes the Commission communications, and the Home Secretary is likely to intervene to share UK experience and best practice in the area of returns to third countries.
Over lunch, Ministers will discuss implementation of the EU migration policy. I expect the presidency to reiterate its calls for member states to meet commitments made under relocation measures, which the UK did not opt in to, and to increase support to the European Asylum Support Agency. The Home Secretary will confirm the UK’s existing commitment to deploying asylum and border experts to support Greece.
The afternoon session will start with a short item to update on the recent activities of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN). The UK is supportive of the work of the RAN to bring together practitioners, civil society and policy makers to help develop tools to tackle radicalisation.
The Council will then discuss external aspects of EU migration policy, including follow up to actions contained in the Malta declaration and the Valetta action plan. The UK supports the Malta declaration and ongoing efforts to stabilise Libya. The Home Secretary will press for concerted action to tackle organised immigration crime into and within the EU, and stress the importance of using regional partnerships, specifically the Khartoum process, to drive forward work under the Malta declaration.
Under ‘Any Other Business’, there will be an update from Austria on the “Managing Migration Challenges Together” Conference. The Commission will update on follow-up to the December 2016 EU-Internet Forum, specifically the outcomes of Commissioner Avramopoulous’ visit to the United States to discuss actions that internet companies are taking to counter terrorist propaganda and extremist content online. The presidency will also provide an update on EU responses to the European Court of Justice’s TELE2-WATSON judgment on data retention, ahead of a substantive discussion on Justice day. The Home Secretary will emphasise the importance of law enforcement experts being engaged in identifying appropriate responses.
The final substantive item of Interior day will cover a progress report from the presidency on negotiations on the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The UK has not opted in to the majority of these measures, and is unlikely to intervene on this item.
Justice day (28 March) will begin with an update from the presidency on its proposal to convene a friends of the presidency group to facilitate a common reflection process at EU level on the impact of the TELE2-WATSON judgment on data retention. The UK is committed to working with other member states to understand the potential risks this judgment poses to investigating crime and protecting the public. I will emphasise the need to develop a common understanding on the necessity of data retention in relation to law enforcement and public safety.
On Criminal Justice in Cyberspace, the discussion will focus on strengthening and further aligning the legal frameworks and practical processes that allow access to, and the transfer of, electronic communication data to support the prevention and prosecution of crimes. I will intervene to support efforts to improve and co-ordinate member states’ capabilities in this area.
There will then be a policy debate on the criminal justice response to foreign terrorist fighter returnees. This will involve a discussion about policy recommendations made by the European Counter Terrorism Co-ordinator to tackle the threat from returning foreign fighters. I will highlight the work the Foreign Secretary is leading focused on the collection of evidence that can later be used to convict returning foreign fighters.
On combating financial crime and terrorist financing, the presidency will provide an update on the progress made at the working groups for the directive on countering money laundering by criminal law and the regulation on mutual recognition of freezing and confiscation orders. The UK is currently considering whether or not to participate in these measures.
The morning will end with an update on the progress of the negotiation of the directive on certain aspects concerning contracts for the supply of digital content. The UK is broadly supportive of the objectives of the proposal.
The final agenda item on Justice day will be a lunch discussion on the protections afforded to whistleblowers. The UK will share information on its system for protecting whistleblowers in response to presidency questions on the matter.