The first meeting of EU Interior and Justice Ministers during the Austrian presidency took place on 12 and 13 July in Innsbruck. A senior Government official represented the UK for Interior day. The Secretary of State for Justice represented the UK on Justice day.
Interior day focused on the follow-up to the June European Council on migration. Discussion reflected on the progress made since the 2015 migration crisis, and the challenges that the EU continues to face. There was broad consensus on the need for strong external border protection, as well as the establishment of regional disembarkation platforms. Member states agreed that the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) reforms, including Dublin IV, should be negotiated as a package. The UK continues to support a comprehensive approach to migration but does not support a mandatory redistribution system within the EU and has not opted into the Dublin IV regulation.
The lunch debate was centred around anti-Semitism and European values. A number of Jewish organisations presented to Ministers their view of the situation for Jews in Europe. Ministers agreed on the importance of combating anti-Semitism in all its forms, and noted the importance of combating online hate speech. The UK condemns all forms of extremism.
Community policing and human trafficking was the final discussion on Interior day, where Ministers discussed practical methods to improve trust between police forces and communities.
Justice day began with a consideration of the Commission’s e-evidence proposals. The UK is currently considering whether to opt in to the e-evidence regulation. Member states considered the opportunities and challenges in negotiating a bilateral EU agreement with the US to enable direct execution of requests for electronic evidence, including concerns over fundamental rights. The Secretary of State for Justice intervened to set out the progress to date on the UK-US agreement, noting the passage of the CLOUD Act in the US and offering to share UK experience to support the Commission.
During the discussion on “Enhancing judicial co-operation in civil matters”, the Commission urged ambition in adopting e-Codex (e-Justice Communication via Online Data Exchange) and the greater use of videoconferencing under the two proposed regulations on service and taking of evidence. The Secretary of State for Justice noted that the proposed regulation for taking of evidence would mean that where evidence is being obtained directly by a court from a person domiciled in another member state, the person from whom the evidence is requested will be compelled to provide it, and that the implications of this will need to be considered. He also expressed the UK’s view that consideration needs to be given to the proportionate costs of e-Codex in relation to requests being served through unsecure post.
Justice day ended with a working lunch on “Mutual recognition in criminal matters”, during which Ministers discussed the areas of judicial co-operation that would require a strengthening of mutual trust.