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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 7 November 2007

The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held on 8 and 9 November 2007 in Brussels.  My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw), the Solicitor-General for Scotland (Frank Mulholland), my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Bridget Prentice) and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Meg Hillier) will attend on behalf of the UK.

There will be a lunch before the start of the council on 8 November for Interior Ministers, where the presidency is expected to report on the current work of the future group on home affairs. The Government would like to ascertain Slovenian plans for the group as the incoming presidency. My noble and learned friend Lady Scotland of Asthal represents the Common Law Group of countries including the UK on this group.

The council will start with the mixed committee items also attended by Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.  Among these will be reports on the state of play regarding biometric visas, common standards on returning illegally staying third-country nationals, and the implementation of SISOne4all, SIS II and the SIS Communication Network. The Government remain keen for implementation of the Schengen information system II to stay on timetable.

The presidency is likely to put the data protection framework decision to a general approach on the articles and certain recitals.  The Government support the proposed general approach.

The main agenda will open with a discussion of chapters 2 and 3 of the draft council decision on Europol. The Government support the proposed conclusion of negotiations of these two chapters, which deal with information processing systems and common provisions on information processing. The text offers a balance of giving Europol added flexibility enabling it to establish new data systems while providing limits on what can be stored and safeguards for the protection of personal data. The Government also support the proposal for the implementation plan, which has been developed at the request of the June JHA Council to set out the steps and timescales for the introduction of community financing for Europol from January 2010.

The presidency is likely to seek a general approach on the council decision implementing the Prüm arrangements for the exchange of data on fingerprints, DNA and vehicle registration.  This instrument sets out the technical details to bring into operation the original council decision on Prüm, which was agreed in June.  In parallel the presidency has sent the text of the council decision to the European Parliament for an opinion to be delivered during the European Parliament plenary session on 9-10 April 2008.

The proposal on council decision on the improvement of co-operation between the special intervention units of the member states of the European Union in crisis situations is also likely to go to the council for a general approach. This decision creates a framework for crisis intervention units from a given member state to provide assistance to other member states.  The UK is supportive of this decision as it enables member states to receive assistance from other member states if they so require, although the UK does not envisage needing to use this agreement.  The scheme is voluntary and places no obligation on member states to either request or provide assistance.  The UK is able to provide assistance to another member state if it wishes to do so under this agreement.  If we want to call on assistance from another member state for a foreign crisis intervention unit to exercise police powers here, we would need to make legislative changes to UK law. The European Parliament’s opinion is also outstanding on this proposal and is expected after 15 January 2008.

Two new draft directives on legal migration will be presented by the Commission. The first is for a new EU “Blue Card” scheme to attract highly skilled migrants. The second proposes a single application procedure for third-country nationals entering the EU, combining separate applications for residency and the right to work into a single application. We will opt in to these directives only if it is in the UK’s national interest to do so and we judge them to be compatible with our point-based system for managed migration.

Although the UK is not participating in the application of the draft regulation amending the common consular instructions, the UK has been involved in the discussions, particularly where they relate to biometric capture and age limits. The presidency noted that a number of key issues, which had been extensively examined at working party level, remained outstanding and that further discussion with, among others, the European Parliament is necessary.

The presidency will report on progress made in negotiations on the draft directive on common standards and procedures in member states for returning illegally staying third-country nationals.  The Government made the decision not to opt in to this directive shortly after it was issued in September 2005.  The Scrutiny Committees of both Houses agreed with that decision.  Negotiations in the council have been lengthy and the first reading has not yet been completed.  There are a number of outstanding issues unresolved.  The content of the draft directive has not changed sufficiently for the Government to reassess the original decision not to opt in.

The presidency will report back on the Balkans Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs that took place in Brdo in October. It will also announce the EU-LAC (Latin America and Caribbean) seminar on migration.

The presidency also wants to obtain agreement on the proposed directive on certain aspects of mediation in civil and commercial matters. The Government support this proposal. They believe that this type of citizen-focused practical measure demonstrates the value of European co-operation in this field. By promoting the use of mediation to settle cross-border disputes this instrument will be of benefit to Europe’s citizens and businesses.

A debate is also scheduled on certain aspects of the proposed council framework decision on the recognition and supervision of suspended sentences, alternative sanctions and conditional sentences.

The presidency has stressed the importance of implementing the Council of Europe Convention and it is hoped that the council conclusions on cybercrime will be agreed at this council.  The Government agree on the need for co-operation with non-EU states, and fully support the Council of Europe Convention.

It is also hoped that council conclusions on trafficking in human beings will be adopted. The Government welcome renewed activity in the European Commission on human trafficking.

The council will conclude with a lunch for Justice Ministers to discuss the outcome of the European Court of Justice’s decision in the ship source pollution case. The Government welcome the clarification which this judgment has provided.