The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held on 28 February 2008 in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office (Meg Hillier) and the Solicitor-General of Scotland (Frank Mulholland) will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.
The council will start with a discussion of the draft Europol council decision, with the presidency aiming to gain consensus on a number of fundamental issues surrounding the funding of Europol and the application of privileges and immunities to Europol staff which are crucial to being able to adopt the council decision by June. The Government have concerns with the proposal to grant privileges and immunities to Europol working in joint investigation teams and are working to resolve this.
There will follow a discussion on common standards and procedures for returning illegally staying third-country nationals. The UK has not opted into this instrument.
We expect that the presidency will give a state of play report on the proposal for a directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law and the Commission will set out its plans concerning the proposal for a directive on ship-source pollution.
There will be an update from the presidency on the ratification of EU–US agreements on extradition and mutual legal assistance. These measures were signed in 2003 but have yet to enter into force pending the completion of implementation measures in member states, including in the UK.
There will be a discussion of the draft framework decision on combating terrorism in relation to scope and proportionality. The Government are broadly happy with the instrument as it stands. However, it has not yet cleared parliamentary scrutiny.
At the mixed committee with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, the Commission will present a revised timetable for implementation of the second generation of the Schengen information system (SIS). This follows the discussion at the informal JHA Council in January, where Ministers discussed the fact that more time for testing was needed. The Government are keen to ensure that the Commission timetable is robust and evidence based.
This will be followed by a meeting of the council in mixed committee with Liechtenstein, where the group will discuss the amendment of the rules of procedure of the committee established between the European Union, the European Community and the Swiss Confederation concerning the latter’s association in the implementation, application and development of the Schengen acquis. An amendment to the rules of procedure is required to enable the Principality of Liechtenstein to also participate in the mixed committee following signature of the protocol concerning Liechtenstein’s accession to the Schengen area.
Over lunch Ministers will discuss the visa waiver Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). In 2007, the US authorities proposed amendments to the criteria for the US visa waiver programme; the UK has participated in the programme since its inception in 1986. The UK has a very significant interest in the proposed amendments because of the large amount of tourist and business traffic between the UK and the USA. The UK recognises and supports the need to improve the security of travel, but any amendments to the visa waiver program should be managed to ensure as little impact on legitimate travel between the UK and the USA as possible. Candidate countries for the visa waiver program have received a draft MOU from the US authorities which must be agreed and signed before they may join. Identical draft MOUs have been sent to other EU member states that currently participate in the programme and we are studying this document carefully. All existing members (including the UK) will be asked to sign the MOU in order to continue to participate in the visa waiver programme.
Also over lunch, Interior Ministers will discuss SIS II, the high-level contact group with the US on data protection and sharing and relations with the European Parliament.
Justice Ministers will discuss the Commission’s intention to create a forum for discussing EU justice policies and practice, for a first exchange of views. It is expected that they will also discuss the financing of e-justice projects and the need to give formal agreement to certain measures before the coming into force of the new treaty.