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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 5 December 2007

The final Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council under the Portuguese presidency will be held in Brussels on 6 and 7 December 2007. My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw), my right honourable friend the Home Secretary (Jacqui Smith), my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Bridget Prentice), the Solicitor-General for Scotland (Frank Mulholland) and my honourable friend the Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State, Home Office (Meg Hillier), will represent the United Kingdom. The following issues will be discussed at the council.

The council will begin with a joint meeting of the JHA and Employment Councils looking at migration, employment and the Lisbon strategy. The Lisbon strategy aims at making the EU the most competitive economy in the world and achieving full employment by 2010. The strategy is based on three pillars: economic, social and environmental. The focus of the Lisbon strategy is therefore growth and jobs. The Government support this approach but want to emphasise that a balance needs to be struck between stimulating labour migration and the management of integration and cohesion, enforcement of the rules and combating illegal migration.

It will then move into mixed committee with Iceland, Switzerland and Norway. That session will begin with a discussion on the full application of the provisions of the Schengen acquis to the member states that joined the European Union in 2004. A formal decision will be made on lifting the internal borders of nine of the 10 countries involved. There will also be updates on the Schengen information system (SIS) communication network and the SIS II programme.

There will also be a state-of-play report on the directive on common standards and procedures in member states for illegally staying third-country nationals. The directive is based on the premise that an effective returns policy is a crucial part in the fight against illegal immigration. The UK has not opted into this as we are not yet convinced of the need for common standards in this area.

There will be a discussion on the weapons directive in both the mixed committee and subsequently under the main agenda. The presidency will be seeking a political agreement on a first reading deal with the European Parliament. The Government are happy with the text as it stands, having secured some important amendments, particularly in relation to the application of criminal sanctions and the arrangements for allowing young persons under 18 to continue to shoot with parental permission or at approved centres. We are aware that the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union has yet to clear this from scrutiny, but hope it will be able to do so on the basis of the further information we have recently provided.

Under the main council agenda, the presidency is hoping to adopt council conclusions on mobility partnerships and circular migration in the context of the global approach to migration. The Government support the council conclusions and are keen for progress to be made under the EU's global approach to migration. We believe it is important to build effective partnerships with third countries to help manage migration issues more effectively. These partnerships should cover all aspects of migration—legal, illegal, and migration and development. Mobility partnerships and circular migration are only two aspects of the global approach to migration.

There will be a package of counterterrorism items discussed in the main agenda at the council. In particular, there will be an opportunity for Ministers to consider the EU counterterrorism co-ordinator's discussion paper on implementation of the EU counterterrorism strategy. The Government have welcomed his proposals, particularly for a common EU policy on data sharing, but will wish to explore in more detail some of the ideas raised, for example, about future work on the use of special investigative techniques. Draft council conclusions will also be agreed on enhancing the security of explosives. The UK welcomes the Portuguese presidency's continued drive to finalise these wide-ranging and complex pieces of work on explosives. There will also be a presentation and first exchange of views on the amending framework decision on combating terrorism. The Government support the Commission's proposals and look forward to working with the Commission to develop complementary measures against terrorist use of the internet.

The presidency will seek to draw a line under the initial discussions on chapters 6, 7 and 9 of the draft Europol council decision, which deal with organisational issues, confidentiality rules and miscellaneous provisions respectively. The Europol working group will now focus its attention on the remaining chapters of the draft council decision. The Government support the proposed drafts, which include helpful revisions that strengthen the Europol management board and provide more oversight. However, these chapters will need to be revisited and revised again at working-group level early next year once the work of three expert groups dealing with staffing and budgetary issues has been completed. This will provide the opportunity for further discussion before the entire council decision is taken to the council for agreement.

There will be a state of play report on e-justice and an exchange of views on work planned for the first half of 2008. The UK supports the overall initiative and the priorities which have been identified for next year.

Rome 1 (applicable law in contractual obligations) is on the agenda for a presidency report on the First Reading agreement with the European Parliament. The UK did not opt into this dossier at the start of the negotiations. We therefore have no vote in council. We have, however, negotiated significant improvements to the text which deal satisfactorily with the points which gave rise to our decision not to opt in, and acknowledge the good co-operation with our European partners that has made this possible. The Government will shortly embark on a process of consultation before deciding whether the UK should now signify its wish to accept the measure, under the terms of our protocol to title IV of the treaty.

The proposed directive on protection of the environment through criminal law is on the agenda for a possible general approach, although this is considered premature by some member states. The UK supports the presidency's desire to progress this dossier, but considers that further detailed work is required.

The presidency is hoping to agree council conclusions with a view to work next year on the development of Eurojust. The Government support the conclusions in recognising the value of Eurojust's work, but have made clear that any future proposals should focus on ensuring that Eurojust fulfils its potential within its current powers. The Government have made clear that we would not therefore support some of the more far-reaching proposals in the recent Commission communication on the future of Eurojust and the European judicial network.

The presidency proposes to seek a general approach on the draft framework decision on the recognition and supervision of suspended sentences, alternative sanctions and conditional sentences. The Government welcome the work done on this instrument, though some fundamental issues remain outstanding and agreement will be conditional on finding a satisfactory outcome on the entire instrument.

The presidency will give an update about the state of play of the European supervision order proposal, and is likely to present the revised draft text. No substantive discussion is expected at the meeting. The first working group to consider this revised version is to take place on 11 December.

There will be a report on the outcome of the EU-Russia JHA ministerial held in Brussels on 22 and 23 November.

There will, also, be a report on the outcome of the Hague diplomatic conference which concluded work on a draft convention on the international recovery of child support and other forms of family maintenance. The Government welcome the outcome of that conference.

A lunch for Interior Ministers will also be held on 6 December with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A possible topic for discussion will be the new Green Paper on the second phase of the common European asylum system and the next steps, but it may also focus on ongoing/protracted refugee situations.