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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 684: debated on Monday 24 July 2006

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Nationality, Citizenship and Immigration (Joan Ryan) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held today, 24 July 2006, in Brussels. I am attending on behalf of the Home Office. I thought that it would be useful if I were to outline the main issues that I expect to be discussed.

The Council will take an initial presentation by the Commission on The Hague programme review. There will also be discussion of migration issues and, in the mixed committee format, the second generation Schengen information system. On the first of these, the Commission will present four communications: the future direction of The Hague programme, which includes a proposed use of Article 42 TEU (the passerelle clause); reviewing the implementation of The Hague programme to date (the scorecard); options for better evaluation of the impact of EU policies in the area of justice and home affairs (JHA); and a legislative proposal based on Article 67(2) TEC adapting the provisions of the European Court of Justice under Title IV (immigration, asylum and civil law matters). The presidency has indicated that it will focus on procedure and handling and is not looking for substantive discussion on these items at this Council. Detailed discussion, including in relation to the more controversial aspects, such as the possible use of Article 42 TEU (the passerelle clause) and Article 67(2) TEC (adapting the remit of the ECJ in Title IV) will take place later in the year, including at the September informal JHA Council in Finland. Those aspects aside, the Government’s initial view is to welcome the focus on implementation and more effective evaluation contained in the communications.

There will be information items on the EU preparations for the UN high-level dialogue on international migration and development and the report on the outcome of the Euro-African ministerial conference on migration and development held in Rabat on 10 and 11 July 2006. The Government welcome the adoption of the EU common position at the General Affairs and External Relations Council last week, on 13 July; we will continue to feed into preparations for the UN high-level dialogue on international migration and development, which takes place in September. There will also be a presentation by the Commission and Frontex (EU border agency) on the situation in the Mediterranean and Africa. We expect there to be a focus on the continuing influx of illegal immigrants to the Canaries and Malta. The UK strongly supports EU joint operational activity in the Mediterranean and has offered technical assistance to the Spanish and Maltese authorities.

There will be discussion on the management of migration flows, specifically on the two Commission communications on a policy plan for legal migration and a common policy on illegal immigration. The presidency will be seeking a first exchange of views on both items. The UK will be encouraging solutions of sharing best practice and establishing common principles, while advising against inflexible, detailed prescription, especially in the form of legislative measures on labour access. The Government are fully committed to tackling the problem of illegal immigration of third-country nationals and notes with interest the Commission's communication; we will examine concrete proposals for measures when they are tabled in due course.

In the mixed committee format, the presidency will be hoping to agree a general approach on the key outstanding issues in the three legal instruments establishing SIS II–a regulation covering immigration aspects, a Council decision covering law enforcement aspects and a regulation covering access by vehicle registration authorities—with a view to reaching a First Reading deal with the European Parliament in September. This is the last opportunity to resolve the major outstanding issues within the Council before the expected EP vote in September. The UK will not participate in the regulation covering immigration but will participate in the other two legal instruments.

Two further presentations by the Commission are expected in the margins of the meeting. These are on (i) a proposal for a regulation setting up the powers and the financing of teams of national border control experts of member states (rapid border intervention teams) to provide joint EU technical and operational assistance at the external EU border, co-ordinated by Frontex; and (ii) a proposal for a Community code on visas—a Schengen measure in which the UK will not participate. Although the UK will not participate in the first proposal, we support the concept of nominated experts deployed at short notice to respond to emergencies to help to enhance the security of the EU external border, but will wish to look carefully at the detail.

Finally, there is likely to be a lunchtime presentation by Commissioner Franco Frattini on the issue of CIA rendition flights.