The EU Justice and Home Affairs Council of Ministers met on 8 and 9 March in Brussels. I represented the UK for Interior day.
Interior day (8 March) began with a discussion on co-operation between common security and defence policy operations and EU JHA agencies. Ministers endorsed an initiative to more effectively co-ordinate the activity and improve the exchange of information between JHA agencies and EU security and defence missions in third countries.
This was followed by an exchange of views on the implementation of the directive on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data. Member states provided updates on progress of their implementation. I intervened to reiterate the UK’s existing capability for processing PNR data, and offered to share expertise with other member states.
Ministers then discussed co-operation with the western Balkans on security and counter-terrorism, with reference to the European Commission’s western Balkans strategy, which was published in February. The Government is supportive of the EU’s efforts to building stronger co-operation in this region. The Government are committed to working closely with European partners on this issue and will be hosting the western Balkans summit 2018 in July, at which security will form a strong element.
Over lunch, Ministers discussed progress made on combating the threat posed by terrorist use of the internet, including engagement with industry and the work of the EU internet forum. The Government remain committed to preventing terrorist use of the internet and are supportive of both the EU internet forum and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism in tackling this issue. I conveyed the Government’s development, announced by the Home Office in February, of new technology to automatically detect terrorist content on any online platform and offered to share the tool with European partners.
In the afternoon, there was a discussion on the increasing role of JHA agencies in counter-terrorism with a focus on the potential future strategic direction of these agencies. The Government welcome the growing role of JHA agencies in helping member states counter terrorism and recognise the need to maximise the effectiveness of existing systems. I reiterated the UK’s commitment to appropriate data sharing with Europol and supported improved co-operation between JHA agencies and third countries, as long as human rights and data protection safeguards are in place.
Ministers then discussed the proposed regulation on establishing a framework for inter-operability between EU information systems for enhancing external border management and internal security. Member states agreed to aim for conclusion of Council negotiations by the end of June to allow agreement with the European Parliament by the end of 2018. I intervened to underline the importance of all EU member states and Schengen states having access to information from all EU databases under this system.
On migration, member states generally agreed with the presidency’s priorities on the way forward, including strengthening the external border, improving returns and co-operation with third countries. I announced that the UK will be resettling up to 100 of the most vulnerable refugees evacuated from Libya, and that the UK has also now resettled over 10,000 vulnerable refugees affected by the Syrian crisis since 2014. I also announced that the Government have renewed our offer to continue specialist deployments to Greece.
Justice day (9 March) began with a discussion on the recast of the Brussels IIa regulation, which focussed on how to best ensure adequate resourcing of central authorities, which play a key role in judicial co-operation on matters of parental responsibility. The presidency concluded, in line with the position taken by the UK and a majority of member states that adequate resourcing for central authorities was important, but that the level of resourcing should be left to the member states.
A general approach was reached on the proposed directive on combating fraud and counterfeiting of non-cash means of payment. The UK has not opted in to this directive.
There was an update on the preparatory steps needed to be taken to ensure that the European public prosecutor’s office (EPPO) becomes operational in 2020. The UK is clear that it will not participate in the EPPO.
There was also a policy debate on work to improve law enforcement access to cross-border e-evidence. The Commission will publish a legislative proposal in April. The discussion focused on ensuring that EU and US law is complementary and member states supported the exploration of an EU-US agreement on e-evidence. The UK intervened to recognise the importance of addressing the obstacles to obtaining e-evidence.
Over lunch, representatives from member states discussed radicalisation in prisons, agreeing on the importance of continuing to share experience and best practice.
The Commission also presented recommendations concerning illegal content on online platforms that were published on 1 March and highlighted the link with the code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online.