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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

The French presidency’s Informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held in Cannes on 7 and 8 July 2008. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Bridget Prentice, attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. Since it was an informal council, no formal decisions were taken. The following issues were discussed.

During the first session of the council, member states considered what practical measures could be taken to improve the internal security of the EU and police co-operation. All welcomed the presidency idea that police co-operation should be developed around the principle of convergence, with most defining that to mean practical changes to improve cross-border working by police forces, such as radio interoperation, data sharing, work on major events and in tourist areas. Several called for more European police training.

The UK agreed with the practical approach recalling that, especially on the third anniversary of the London bombings, one of our top priorities remained counterterrorism. As such we welcomed the work led by the counterterrorism co-ordinator. Counter-radicalisation, projects like the maritime analysis and operation centre (MAOC(N)) on drugs, criminal asset confiscation, cybercrime, and a data sharing and protection strategy were also all important. The presidency concluded by confirming that the lack of a new treaty did not stand in the way of the practical measures Ministers wanted.

The presidency introduced their paper in the civil protection session by stressing the need for the EU to be prepared, improve capabilities, convergence and interoperability and suggesting that some modules (specialised intervention teams based on member state assets) be put on standby. A number of member states supported the need for co-operation, but responded with caution regarding new structures and any suggestion of EU authority over national resources.  Modules must remain on a voluntary basis to ensure that member states have full control over the use of their own assets.   It was concluded that these should remain voluntary but the EU should look at any capability gaps and support joint training initiatives.

Over lunch, the final report of the interior future group was presented and there was a general discussion with member states welcoming it.

We expect the work of both of the future groups to be officially concluded at the JHA Council at the end of July.

The presidency presented the migration pact and said that they hoped to adopt it at the October council. All member states supported the pact but raised points of detail, with some arguing that asylum procedures should not be changed, others wanting a single consolidated instrument on legal migration procedures, concerns regarding the creation of a common border guard; and some seeking a stronger reference to burden sharing of people.

The UK welcomed the pact and noted that the EU should continue to focus on practical measures that deliver results including on data sharing, border control, and passenger name records (PNR). The EU’s border agency, Frontex, (among others) should be used to strengthen the external border but the responsibility should remain with the member states. On asylum, the UK stressed that the EU should focus on implementing existing asylum legislation. The EU must provide a haven, but also needed to work together to combat abuse. The global approach to migration needed to be further implemented although we needed to be clearer on the links between development and migration.

The first justice session opened with a debate introduced by the presidency about whether judges required further training in EU law and judicial co-operation. Most member states welcomed the discussion but concerns were raised about judicial independence and the way the training should be delivered. Most thought that any such training should be open to judges, prosecutors and court officials and that the key subjects should be EU law, other member states’ law and language training.

The second justice session focused on the protection of children and vulnerable adults. For the discussion on protecting children, the presidency urged member states to establish national missing child alert systems which should be interoperable. The UK supported both the principle and detail of the presidency’s ideas and explained that the UK was rolling out an alert system. Information sharing on convicted sex offenders, use of CCTV and automatic number plate recognition were all also useful. The presidency concluded that the child alert system would be taken forward.

There was a discussion about how the European Union should deal with the question of the protection of vulnerable adults in order to meet the challenges of an ageing population and the high level of mobility of European citizens. The presidency encouraged member states to ratify the Hague Convention on the international protection of vulnerable adults and there was a discussion about how member states could improve the implementation of the convention. The UK signed and ratified the convention within Scotland in 2003. Work is under way to extend the convention to cover England and Wales.

There was a short discussion of the report of the justice future group over lunch. Those Ministers who spoke broadly welcomed the report.