The first meeting of EU Interior and Justice Ministers during the Romanian presidency of the Council of the EU took place on 7 and 8 February 2019 in Bucharest. The Immigration Minister represented the UK on Interior day. I represented the UK on Justice day.
Interior day focused on counter-terrorism, policing co-operation, the Schengen area, and migration and asylum.
Interior day began with a discussion on the European Parliament’s report on the EU’s approach to counter-terrorism. The Immigration Minister welcomed the European Parliament’s report in general, and emphasised areas—such as counter-radicalisation, tackling terrorist content online, addressing issues relating to returning foreign terrorist fighters, and aviation security—where the UK considers that continued European co-operation is vital in the fight against terrorism. The Immigration Minister also welcomed the committee’s call for close co-operation with the UK after Brexit. A number of member states agreed, urging immediate Commission and member state action to prepare contingency plans in case of no deal, including a mechanism of continued information exchange. Some member states also noted that member states retained competence for national security, and noted concern about expanding the competence of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) at this time.
The policing discussion focused on mechanisms to share experience and expertise on gathering and analysing digital data. The Immigration Minister intervened to support proposals to explore developing means of identifying and sharing best practice on the recovery and analysis of digital information, during the course of the prevention and investigation of criminal activity. Most member states also supported this work, and were keen for Europol to have a central role.
Over lunch and in the afternoon session, Ministers discussed the functioning of the Schengen border free zone, in the context of some member states retaining internal borders, and wider migration and asylum issues. As the UK does not participate in the border free zone, the Immigration Minister did not intervene on the Schengen border discussion. There was discussion about the necessity of Schengen internal border controls. Ministers also discussed but did not agree on the possibility of a temporary redistribution mechanism pending reform of the Dublin asylum system.
Justice day began with a discussion on the future of civil judicial co-operation in the EU. The debate marked the twentieth anniversary of the Amsterdam treaty and of the adoption of the Tampere programme. Ministers reaffirmed the need to focus on the proper implementation of existing legislation before considering new measures. I emphasised the importance of a future relationship with the EU in this area.
There then followed a lunchtime discussion on gathering electronic evidence in criminal matters. Ministers discussed the mandates for negotiations to establish an agreement on access to electronic evidence (e-evidence) with the US, and with contracting parties to the Budapest convention. I updated Ministers on progress towards an UK-US agreement under the US CLOUD Act.
Justice day ended with a discussion on the future of judicial co-operation in criminal matters in the EU. Ministers again emphasised the importance of proper implementation of legislation, and ensuring the current acquis works effectively.