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Justice and Home Affairs Pre-Council Statement

Volume 637: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2018

The EU Justice and Home Affairs Council of Ministers will meet on 8 and 9 March in Brussels. I will represent the UK for interior day.

Interior day (8 March) will begin with a discussion on co-operation between common security and defence policy (CSDP) operations and EU JHA agencies. This work aims to join up the activity of JHA agencies more effectively with EU security and defence missions in third countries. The Government support improving co-operation in this area and I will endorse this work.

This will be followed by an exchange of views on the implementation of the directive on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data. The UK has existing capability for processing PNR data in Europe, was at the forefront of advocating the need for an EU tool in this area, and continues to offer advice and support to member states in the development of their own capabilities.

There will be an exchange of views on co-operation with the western Balkans in the area of internal security and counter-terrorism. Ministers will discuss how to help build capacities in the western Balkans and to facilitate co-operation against threats from organised crime and terrorism, in light of the EU Commission’s western Balkans strategy, published in February. The Government broadly support these high-level counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism objectives and recognise the importance of effective work in these areas in the western Balkans.

Over lunch, Ministers will discuss ways of combating terrorist content online. I will share recent global developments made in preventing terrorist use of the internet. This includes developments within industry, which have been driven by our efforts in the UK and through partnerships including with EU member states and the Commission. I will also note the progress made by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism and the complementary role it plays with the EU internet forum. I will also update Ministers on the Home Secretary’s recent visit to see the US tech industry in Silicon Valley, where she discussed how to make sure terrorist use of the internet does not simply shift to less well-resourced platforms as the large companies clean up their act.

In the afternoon, Interior Ministers will discuss JHA agencies’ role in counter-terrorism. Discussion will focus on the potential future strategic direction of co-operation, including between JHA agencies; improving engagement with priority third countries; and increasing the number of CT experts based within the agencies. The Government are broadly supportive of these measures, which will enhance co-operation and increase expertise, and which in turn will make better use of the existing mechanisms and structures.

There will then be a policy debate on the proposed regulation on establishing a framework for interoperability between EU information systems. The legislation aims to create a more joined-up approach to EU JHA databases to prevent criminals and terrorists exploiting the gaps between them. The Government are assessing if these proposals would provide benefits to the UK, in particular if they would make UK law enforcement agencies’ searching of data more efficient and represent value for money. These considerations will then inform whether the UK will opt in to the new systems.

On migration, the presidency will update on progress and the way forward on managing Mediterranean migration to build upon the concerted efforts across the EU last year which saw a marked reduction in the number of flows arriving in Europe in 2017. The UK supports the proposals as they align with our “whole of route” approach, which seeks to intervene at every stage of the migrant journey to reduce illegal migration and promote safe and orderly migration. I will be highlighting recent UK efforts in this space, including our record on resettlement having now resettled over 10,000 vulnerable refugees who have fled the Syrian crisis since 2014 as part of our commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020.

Justice day (9 March) will begin with a discussion on whether the recast of the Brussels lla regulation should include a provision that obliges member states to ensure central authorities have sufficient financial and human resources to fulfil their role. The Government support adequate resourcing of central authorities, but do not believe that a provision to that effect should be included in the proposal, as such matters should be for member states to decide.

A general approach will be sought for the proposed directive on combating fraud and counterfeiting of non-cash means of payment, which aims to address the shortfalls of existing EU legislation in addressing the challenges in this area from organised crime. The UK has not opted in to this directive.

The presidency will give an update on the preparatory steps needed to be taken to ensure that the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) becomes operational in 2020. As the UK will not be participating in the EPPO, we will not intervene on this item.

The Commission will then provide an update on its work to improve law enforcement access to cross-border e-evidence. We expect the Commission to propose a legislative proposal in this area in March. The Government recognise that this is an important issue to address but we want to ensure that the proposals do not duplicate any of the existing or proposed EU legislation or other international agreements in this space and that they do not jeopardise the existing practical co-operation we have with communication service providers.

The working lunch will discuss radicalisation in prisons. This is an opportunity to highlight the UK’s approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism in prisons, and our commitment to working closely with our European partners to respond to common challenges in this area.

In addition to the substantive agenda items, the Commission will present to Justice Ministers its recommendation on illegal content on online platforms and its impact on the work under the code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech.