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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 4 December 2008

Statement

The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held in Brussels on 27 and 28 November 2008. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary (Jacqui Smith) and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues were discussed at the council.

The council endorsed a statement condemning the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Giles de Kerchove, the Counter Terrorism Co-ordinator, welcomed the council’s recent focus on counterterrorism.  Radicalisation and recruitment were sensitive issues, but consensus has been reached on updating the action plan under the French presidency. It was important to encourage moderate Muslims to express their views. External work with the UN, Pakistan, the Sahel and the US was also critical.  The commission highlighted efforts on explosives, critical infrastructure protection, and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) terrorism.

The UK welcomed the work of de Kerchove and the presidency on counter-radicalisation and stressed that this area had to be the focus for the long-term effort. Important elements were countering ideology, strengthening mainstream voices, tackling spaces where radicalisation can happen, such as prisons and schools, and communications. The UK had undertaken extensive work in this area, and was keen to do more at EU level.

On civil protection, Ministers were shown a film of a recent CBRN exercise and conclusions were agreed on improving the Union's modular response, training and EU-UN co-ordination.  Some additional measures needed to be taken, and this was the consideration behind the presidency's road map.

The council discussed a presidency paper on PNR. The incoming Czech presidency felt that the report was a good basis for future work and set out plans to work on the legal text at expert level, as well as to engage with other bodies such as the European Parliament and the Fundamental Rights Agency. The UK felt that the presidency's report showed that significant progress had been made, but that there was now a need to maintain the momentum.

During the Mixed Committee, including Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland, the presidency and the commission congratulated Switzerland on its readiness to join the Schengen area, with land borders to be lifted on 12 December 2008 and air borders on 29 March 2009.

The commission provided an update on the schedule for implementation of the second-generation Schengen information system (SIS II) programme. There had been some delays, but testing had resumed on 5 November and the results would be ready at the end of December. Every effort would be made to ensure that SIS II was fully operational before the end of 2009. The UK asked for the views of member states not presently linked into the SIS programme to be represented in the Friends of SIS II group looking at the SIS II programme. This was agreed.

The presidency reported on the second EU-Africa conference on migration and development, which took place in Paris on the 25 November. The commission supported the practical measures set out in the declaration from the conference and undertook to work hard with member states to take them forward. The council conclusions on the global approach to migration were agreed without discussion and will be formally adopted at the December General Affairs and External Relations Council.

The presidency reported on the EU ministerial conference on integration, which took place in Vichy on 3 and 4 November, and the council agreed the declaration as council conclusions.

The presidency congratulated the council on the progress made in negotiations on the draft directive establishing a single application procedure, a single permit and a common set of rights for third country nationals legally residing in the member states and on reaching political agreement on the blue card directive. The presidency declared that the directives demonstrated the EU was already delivering on commitments made on legal migration in the migration pact.

The council did not reach agreement on the draft directive extending long-term residency to beneficiaries of international protection—in which the UK does not participate. Reservations are still outstanding on whether to offer the same access to long-term residence rights to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection as to refugees.

During lunch, there was a discussion on Iraqi refugees and, on reconvening, the council agreed conclusions underlining the importance of resettlement as a protection tool for particularly vulnerable refugees. The council agreed to step up efforts to meet the target set by UNHCR of 10,000 Iraqi refugees to be offered protection in the EU over the next three years while taking into account member states’ individual reception capacities and efforts already taken in the field of resettlement.

The council discussed and agreed conclusions on how to take forward work dealing with abuse of the free movement directive, in particular by addressing the expulsion of criminals who threatened serious harm and the threat of illegal immigration. The commission will adopt their report on their evaluation of the implementation of the directive next week but will take forward further work on how member states should interpret the directive in respect of the issues raised in the discussion in early 2009.

The council agreed conclusions on child abduction alerts.

The presidency provided an update on work to amend the co-operation agreement between Eurojust and Europol.

Five legal instruments were adopted: the framework decision on racism and xenophobia; the framework decision on data protection; the framework decision on mutual recognition in probation matters; the framework decision on terrorism and the framework decision on mutual recognition of judgments in criminal matters.

The council reached a general approach on the proposed decision amending the existing arrangements for the European judicial network in civil and commercial matters. The European Parliament is due to vote on the final text on 17 December 2008.

The council conclusions concerning the common frame of reference in contract law were formally adopted.  The presidency recalled that member states wanted a non-binding common frame of reference which was voluntary, and confirmed that the council was not in favour of harmonising contract law in member states. 

The e-justice action plan was adopted. This provides a structure and plan to take forward and deliver the proposed e-justice projects.

Portugal and Estonia provided a demonstration of a practical example of e-justice, showing how citizens in each of the two countries can now rapidly create a company in the other state online.

Agreement was reached on the setting-up of a network for legislative co-operation, which will facilitate information about legislation in the various member states passing among Ministries of Justice. The presidency said that the first meeting of the network would take place in the first half of 2009.

The council agreed a general approach on the European supervision order. The UK welcomed the instrument, which would enhance public protection by enabling the supervision of suspects awaiting trial when they returned home, while also ensuring people were not held unnecessarily in detention. 

The UK congratulated the presidency on the conclusion of the negotiations on the regulation on mutual recognition of family maintenance obligations.  The UK did not opt in to this measure when it was proposed; however I announced that the UK would notify the commission of our wish to participate in this measure when it has been formally adopted.