The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on 26 and 27 February 2009 in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary (Jacqui Smith), the Scottish Solicitor General (Frank Mulholland) and I, intend to attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.
During the mixed committee with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Lichtenstein, Ministers will be asked to adopt council conclusions on the second generation of the Schengen information system. These reflect discussions at the informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in January on action required in light of an analysis which identified problems with the central system. The conclusions set a direction for the central SISII project, and include a set of criteria against which the SISII-based scenario and the alternative scenario, based on a SIS I platform, will be assessed. They call for a decision regarding the future of the project to be taken by June 2009 at the latest.
The presidency will present to the mixed committee the current state of play on the implementation of regulation establishing the visa information system (VIS). The UK does not participate in the VIS. The presidency will also report on the outcome of the Swiss air borders evaluation which took place on 9 to 13 February. Provided that the air borders evaluation does not throw up any shortcomings and is fully compliant with the Schengen acquis, Switzerland will be able to abolish checks on persons at its air borders on 29 March 2009.
The council will then exchange initial views on a new proposal from the Commission for a regulation establishing a European asylum support office. The aim of the office will be to co-ordinate practical co-operation on asylum between member states. The UK will have three months to decide whether to opt-in to this proposal.
The presidency will present the recent report by the Commission on the implementation of the Free Movement Directive (2004/38/EC) by all member states. The UK strongly supports correct implementation of free movement rights and also welcomes the Commission’s undertaking to provide effective guidelines on abuse of free movement.
The council will discuss key issues around combating illegal immigration in the Mediterranean. This arises out of migration pact discussions. Four countries are calling for greater EU support in managing illegal migration flows through this region. The Government recognise the significance of these flows and support strong EU co-operation on this issue.
The council will discuss the situation of Iraqi refugees informed by council conclusions agreed on 27 and 28 November. The UK has already committed to resettling 1,000 Iraqi refugees during 2008-10 (financial years) and does not have capacity to include additional spaces. This has been communicated to the council. The UK will encourage other EU member states to set up their own resettlement programmes and will offer technical support based on our longstanding experience.
The council will have a discussion over lunch on the appointment of the new Europol director. The United Kingdom will push for adoption of the unanimous recommendation of the Europol Management Board that the UK candidate was the most suitable for appointment.
The presidency will seek a steer from the council on various aspects of the proposed framework decision in conflicts of jurisdiction in criminal matters. The proposal sets out a mechanism at Union level to prevent potential conflicts of jurisdiction in criminal proceedings and determine the most appropriate jurisdiction in cases where more than one member state could potentially exercise jurisdiction over the same case.
The presidency will ask the council to adopt a negotiating mandate for a mutual legal assistance agreement between the EU and Japan. The Government are happy with the mandate in its current format. A key priority for the UK is to ensure the inclusion of videoconferencing to give testimony.
The presidency will update the council about the implementation of the European e-justice action plan, which was approved by the council in November 2008. The Government welcome the presidency’s commitment to the e-justice action plan and support the development of a more detailed roadmap to ensure proper implementation of projects such as the e-justice portal and videoconferencing.
Under any other business, the council will discuss any potential role of the EU in the closure of Guantanamo while the Commission will present an outline of a report by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière on the processing of member states’ personal data by the US (Treasury Department) for counterterrorism purposes. The council will also have a discussion on the EU anti-drug policy, originally planned for the informal JHA Council in January. This will enable the UK to emphasise the continued necessity of EU action in tackling cocaine trafficking through West Africa. Greece is expected to highlight the third Global Forum on Migration and Development taking place in early November in Athens. The chosen overall theme is integrating migration policies in development strategies for the benefit of all. The UK is (as in previous years) a member of the Steering Group for the Athens Forum and will in that capacity help oversee and shape preparations.
The presidency is expected to inform the council on the state of play of the negotiations with the European Parliament on the proposal for an amending directive on ship-source pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements. The UK supports the directive and is keen to see a successful passage in the European Parliament. Germany will provide information on the International Tribunal for Law of the Sea based in Hamburg. Finally, Sweden is expected to raise the issue of transparency as a tool for strengthening citizens’ trust in the European institutions.