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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council

Volume 689: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2007

The Informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held in Dresden on 15 and 16 January 2007. Joan Ryan and I attended on behalf of the UK. I thought it would be useful if I were to outline the main issues that were discussed at the council. Since it was an informal council, no formal decisions were taken.

The German presidency opened the council by outlining briefly its JHA programme plans for the duration of its tenure.

The presidency then invited discussion on the possible incorporation of the Prüm treaty into EU law. The treaty, signed by seven member states on 27 May 2005, is designed to intensify cross-border police co-operation, especially in the fight against terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal immigration. It offers a model for information exchange in three areas: DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration. The presidency has made it clear that it attaches significant importance to the incorporation of Prüm and sought views at the informal on such incorporation and whether it should be in whole or limited to only parts of the treaty.

There was consensus among member states that work should be taken forward on incorporating the third pillar elements of the Prüm Treaty (essentially the information-sharing parts) into EU law. The UK made clear that it supported practical co-operation in the areas of law enforcement and that it saw considerable value in transposing the Third-Pillar elements into EU law, subject to further consideration of whether this should be on an exact one-to-one basis. The UK stressed that whatever mechanism was agreed for incorporation, sufficient time needed to be allowed for national parliaments to scrutinise arrangements. It would be important, too, to consider fully the cost implications. The presidency noted that there was consensus to take work forward and that, in the light of the discussion, it would bring forward a proposal in advance of the February formal council.

The presidency then invited views on ideas for developing the post-2009 home affairs JHA programme and suggested that the next multi-annual work programme should be prepared by an informal group made up of the six member states holding the presidency between 2007 and 2009, together with the Commission and the European Parliament. In addition, such an advisory group could be assisted by specific experts designated ad personam. Other member states would be able to submit input to the group at all stages, and the presidency highlighted the value it attached to the views of all in the process. The views of the advisory group would be fed into the formal discussions that would take place among all member states within the council.

In discussion, member states were generally positive, in principle, subject to the need for full transparency and openness with other member states throughout the process. The Commission and the UK both noted that work on the post-2009 programme should not detract from the ongoing work that the EU has to do in implementing the existing Hague programme and the need for any such group to reflect the different legal models (such as the common law) which existed in member states. The presidency concluded that it would consider the way ahead with the Commission, and return to the issues at the February JHA council.

In the discussion on migration, the presidency sought discussion on how best to react to the current migratory challenges facing the EU, building on the joint paper submitted by the G6 member states following their meeting in Stratford-upon-Avon in October 2006 and the European Council conclusions of December 2006. In particular, it highlighted the need to focus on closer co-operation with regard to return measures and border protection; the strengthening of Frontex (the borders agency); improved information-sharing; and the more extensive use of biometrics. In addition, it sought views on further work in relation to readmission agreements; bilateral partnerships between EU member states and third countries; circular migration; and the promotion of information-sharing between asylum authorities.

All member states supported the implementation of the December 2006 European Council conclusions and the global approach to migration. A number called for more resources to be given to Frontex.

Under the item on e-justice, the presidency introduced its pilot project on the exchange of criminal records. It noted that a key question was whether any centralised system or network was needed, or whether it might be better simply to join up existing member-state databases. The UK said that it favoured the use of existing systems, as did a significant number of other member states. I pressed other member states to look hard at their procedures for sharing conviction data at the moment, and at including fingerprints, while recognising that the UK was far from perfect itself. I also indicated that the UK strongly supported the development of e-justice, especially in the order for payment and was looking positively at joining the presidency pilot project on the exchange of criminal records. The presidency concluded that there was clear support for further work in this area and that it would consider the setting up of a working group to take this forward.

On violent video games, the presidency showed one recently banned in Germany. The Commission undertook to come forward with a communication setting out ideas, such as a forum for producers and Governments. The presidency suggested looking at better European co-ordination of restrictions, better information exchange on banned games and a discussion of the procedures for classifying and banning games.

On family law, the presidency argued for applicable law rules for divorce and inheritance. The UK, supported by five other member states, maintained its position that applicable law rules would bring significant problems of applying foreign law rules in EU courts, and pressed for mutual recognition, better focused legislation and more use of non-legislative measures.