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Justice and Home Affairs Pre-Council Statement

Volume 615: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2016

The first formal Justice and Home Affairs Council of the Slovak presidency will take place on 13 and 14 October in Luxembourg. The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), will attend the justice day and I will attend the interior day.

The interior day (13 October) will begin with a progress report on the implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard, which came into force on 6 October. As a Schengen measure, the UK does not participate. However, the Government support action by Schengen states to improve management of the external border and will support the European Border and Coast Guard’s operations by mutual consent.

The presidency will then provide a progress report on information technology measures related to border management, including the proposal to introduce systematic checks at the external border and the revised smart borders policy proposal for an entry-exit system (EES). The presidency will also ask the Commission to update on plans for the evolution of the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II) and the forthcoming proposal for an EU travel information and authorisation scheme (ETIAS). We will intervene to support those member states arguing that systematic checks should be the default at all external borders and to argue that future amendments to SIS II should support more effective police co-operation within the EU. As Schengen measures, the UK does not participate in the systematic checks at external borders and EES measures, and will not participate in the ETIAS proposal.

Next on the agenda will be a discussion on migration. This is likely to focus on implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, with updates on the wider migration situation. We will reaffirm that the UK is continuing to play its part to address the migration crisis through our support for practical work to strengthen the EU’s external borders, including hotspots.

Over lunch, the presidency will hold a discussion on progress towards establishing new migration partnership frameworks with five priority countries—Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. We will welcome the emphasis on addressing migration issues as a major element of the European Union’s relations with third countries, but caution against limiting that approach to the current priority countries. We should look strategically at which regions and countries offer the most opportunity for impact, including in the horn of Africa, middle east and Asia.

After lunch, the presidency will provide a progress report on the six proposals relating to reform of the common European asylum system (CEAS). This is likely to focus on law enforcement access to Eurodac and the extent of the mechanism for monitoring and assessing the asylum and reception systems of member states in the EU asylum agency proposal. The UK has not opted into the EU asylum agency proposal and is considering whether to opt into the other five proposals. We will encourage the Council to support easier law enforcement access to Eurodac.

Following this, there will be a debate on a proposal for a common EU resettlement framework. The Government have previously stated that resettlement schemes are best operated at the national level.

Under any other business, the presidency will update Ministers on the third ministerial conference of the Prague process, in which the UK does not participate, and on the progress of current legislative proposals.

The justice day (14 October) will begin with a progress report and policy debate on the proposal for a directive on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (PIF directive), with a view to endorsing the development of a compromise that would bring serious VAT fraud within the scope of the directive. The UK has not opted in to this proposal on the grounds that it would infringe on member states’ competence to control their own taxes.

The presidency will seek member states’ support for a partial general approach on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). The UK will not participate in an EPPO.

Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on combating hate crime in the EU, specifically on the framework decision on racism and xenophobia, in which the UK does not take part as our law provides similar levels of protection, and the presidency will update the Council on current legislative proposals.

Over lunch, the presidency intends to discuss the role of Eurojust in relation to counter-terrorism. We will make the point that the UK values the work of Eurojust in helping to co-ordinate investigations and prosecutions, including counter-terrorism cases, but clearly any activity should be within its remits.