The first formal Justice and Home Affairs Council of the Slovak presidency took place on 13 and 14 October in Luxembourg. The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), attended justice day and I attended interior day. My right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, also attended the Council.
Interior day (13 October) began with an update from the presidency on the implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency regulation. The agency was launched on 6 October. The UK does not participate in this measure.
The Council then discussed IT measures related to border management. The presidency encouraged member states to stress to their MEPs the importance of agreeing the regulation on systematic border checks quickly due to the ongoing risk from foreign fighters. The presidency also highlighted the entry-exit system (EES) as an important security measure and announced that a proposal on the new EU travel information and authorisation system (ETIAS) would be published by the Commission in late October. The Commission noted that a proposal revising the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II) would be published before the end of this year. The UK will not participate in systematic checks, ETIAS or EES as they are Schengen- building measures. The UK participates in SIS II.
The Commission provided an update on the implementation of agreed migration measures, including hotspots, reception conditions, asylum processing and returns. I reiterated the UK’s commitment to supporting efforts to address the migration crisis and increase security across the EU, with a particular focus on upstream migration and the effectiveness of returns.
Over lunch, Ministers discussed developing partnership frameworks with third countries to manage migration to the EU, and issues relating to temporary internal Schengen borders.
The Council then turned to the reform of the common European asylum system (CEAS) and the resettlement framework. The presidency outlined its proposed approach, which would focus on the Eurodac and EU Asylum Agency (EUAA) proposals in particular. The Council agreed that the current Eurodac proposal should aim to simplify law enforcement access to Eurodac. The UK supports this approach.
Under any other business, there were updates on a Belgian project on returns (EURES CRIM), and from the presidency on the ministerial conference of the Prague process held on 19 and 20 September in Bratislava.
Justice day (14 October) started with a discussion on the protection of the Union’s financial interests directive (PIF), specifically the inclusion of VAT fraud in the directive. The presidency concluded that the majority of member states supported the inclusion of certain serious cross-border VAT fraud in the PIF directive. The UK does not participate in PIF.
The Commission presented a cost-benefit analysis of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), concluding that the benefits would significantly outweigh the costs. The presidency concluded that there was “broad conceptual support” for the four provisions under discussion: relationship with Eurojust; judicial review; relations with third countries; and relations with non-participating member states. The presidency aims to reach agreement on the Council position on EPPO at the December JHA Council. The UK will not participate in the EPPO.
At lunch, the presidency led a discussion on the role of Eurojust in combating terrorism, with a focus on data sharing.
Under any other business, the presidency updated Ministers on current legislative proposals and the Commission presented a note on hate crime in the EU. The Policing Minister supported the Commission’s message that hate crime has no place in our society and set out UK measures to combat hate crime.