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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 30 October 2008

The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 24 October 2008 in Luxembourg. My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw), my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Meg Hillier), the Scottish Minister for Community Safety (Fergus Ewing) and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following items were discussed.

The morning of the council focused on interior items and commenced with the Mixed Committee, which included Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The legal migration texts on the second-generation Schengen information system (SIS II) were adopted. The Commission noted that testing on the central system had been suspended due to technical difficulties, but that tests should recommence on 5 November. The Commission stated that the stability of the central system and minimising the impact on timetabling were a priority. On the Schengen information system network (SISNET), the council secretariat reported that migration had progressed well and was scheduled to finish on 25 October.

Cybercrime was the first item discussed on the main agenda. The council conclusions were agreed and the presidency stated that the new EU platform hosted by Europol would enable the EU to combat cybercrime. The incoming Czech presidency announced that it would be holding a ministerial conference entitled “Safer Internet for Children” on 28 April 2009 in Prague.

Next the council conclusions on the principle of convergence were agreed. The presidency explained how convergence consisted of the need to be pragmatic and concrete, and to find specific areas where the EU could work more closely together in an atmosphere of trust. Hungary made a short presentation on the work of the Salzburg forum, an example of regional co-operation.

In the discussion on west African drug trafficking, the presidency stressed the strategic importance of tackling the emerging issue of trafficking at an early stage. The UK welcomed the presidency's initiative, emphasising the dramatic trends which had been seen in drug trafficking from west Africa. The experience of the maritime analysis operations centre (MAOC) demonstrated what could be achieved with concerted EU action. The UK welcomed the Czech and Swedish presidencies' priority on this issue, and supported the French presidency's proposal that west Africa should be a priority region in the next EU drugs strategy.

During a discussion on passenger name records (PNR), the UK welcomed progress made during the French presidency, highlighting the beneficial experience that the UK had with using passenger name records to date. The UK thought there should be progress by the time of the European elections next June, and that the final instrument should allow member states to focus on those flights which were thought to present the greatest risk, rather than obliging them to collect data on all flights. The Czech presidency invited the UK to help organise a road show on the benefits of a PNR system. The current presidency concluded that they would provide a report to the JHA Council in November.

Over lunch, the presidency pushed the case for a guaranteed minimum availability of civil protection resources at EU level—a system of European mutual assistance. The UK, together with other member states, shared strong concerns about the proposed standby rota system. The presidency stressed that this did not mean assets would be left idle, and emphasised that member states would have the right to reserve assets in the case of a national emergency.  The key element of the proposed system was the ability to know what assets were available and to be able to plan on that basis.  The Commission supported the presidency's analysis and welcomed the proposed system of European mutual assistance.

Also over lunch, the Commission called for Ministers to consider the potential role of security technology in the post-Hague programme, to see what potential there was for new technologies to contribute to policy priorities, and to support the private sector in developing such technology.  The Czech Republic noted that this issue would be among its presidency priorities.

In the afternoon the council reached political agreement on the council decision on the European criminal records information system (ECRIS). The UK welcomed agreement of an important measure to protect the public, and hoped that it would be possible to build on this in the future to cover monitoring of offenders, especially sex offenders. The Commission welcomed the rapid agreement and looked forward to implementation. It outlined the technical and financial assistance that was available to member states. The presidency thanked all member states for their co-operation and welcomed the political agreement reached.

The council reached political agreement on the text of the proposal for a council regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and co-operation in matters relating to maintenance obligations. The UK has not opted into this proposal. The UK thanked the presidency, Commission and other member states for their positive work to find a solution to the UK’s concerns about the use of rules of applicable law in family cases. We explained that the matter remained subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the UK, but hoped to be in a position to indicate the UK’s wish to accept the measure after it had been adopted, under the terms of our protocol.

The council approved the conclusions on the situation of vulnerable adults and their cross-border legal protection. The guidelines encourage member states that have not yet acceded to the Hague convention of 13 January 2000 on the international protection of vulnerable adults to sign and/or ratify it as soon as possible. The UK has already ratified this convention in respect of Scotland, and work is in hand to extend such ratification to the rest of the UK. 

The council agreed a resolution of the council and representatives of the Governments of member states for a set of non-binding guidelines on judicial training, designed to encourage the bodies responsible for training of judges and prosecutors to improve training in European law, and promote understanding of other member states’ legal systems.

The next Justice and Home Affairs Council will take place on 27 and 28 November.