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Justice and Home Affairs Post-Council Statement

Volume 611: debated on Thursday 26 May 2016

A meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 20 May. I attended on behalf of the UK.

The Council began with an adoption of the A items, before a discussion on the current migration situation. The Commission reminded Ministers that the EU-Turkey agreement of 18 March has had a significant impact but needs to be implemented in full, and that it had assessed Turkey as a safe third country for the purposes of returns from Greece. Supported by a number of others, I intervened to emphasise the need to get returns working properly, calling on the Council to support the Commission’s assessment.

The Council then moved on to talk about the central Mediterranean route. I supported the Italian position on the need to enhance our efforts upstream and highlighted the need to build on successful approaches such as the Niger centre. I and others emphasised the importance of proper asylum processes, including appropriate use of detention, and screening.

A number of member states also intervened to highlight the difficulties with relocating migrants from Italy and Greece. The UK does not, of course, take part in the EU’s relocation mechanism.

The presidency concluded that the Council had expressed political support for returning migrants to Turkey and reflected this position in its post-Council press statement.

Next, the presidency chaired a discussion on Schengen visa policy in the context of the revised Schengen visa suspension mechanism and specific proposals to lift Schengen visa requirements for Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo and Turkey. All Ministers were in agreement that benchmarks must be met prior to any liberalisation. The UK welcomed the revised visa suspension mechanism and the possibility of triggering it on public security grounds. Ministers agreed a general approach on the visa suspension mechanism, allowing the presidency to begin trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament. The UK also noted the close relationship between liberalisation and the wider EU relationship with these countries; it would be important to establish clear and firm expectations on security and migration. The UK is not a member of the Schengen border free zone, so neither the visa suspension mechanism nor the Schengen visa programmes for Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo and Turkey will apply to the UK.

The presidency concluded that the Council expected further reporting on Kosovo and Turkey once all benchmarks had been met, that Georgia would go to COREPER the following week for agreement to start negotiations with the European Parliament, and that Ukraine would be discussed further.

Finally, the presidency updated Ministers on the negotiations for the European border and Coastguard. The European Parliament had not reached a position. There had been no significant change since the general approach was agreed in April. The UK will not participate in this measure.