This written ministerial statement was laid in the House of Commons on 24 January 2013 by Mark Harper.
The Informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 17 and 18 January in Dublin. My Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling MP) and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following items were discussed.
The first plenary session of the Interior day focused on Migration for Growth. The Commission supported the Presidency’s paper noting the legal instruments currently being negotiated and the forthcoming legal migration Directive on Students and Researchers. The UK outlined our successful efforts to reduce net migration whilst attracting the brightest and best, including in the student sector. A number of member states highlighted the need to ensure effective matching of migrants to jobs, tackling abuse and support for national populations to fill skill shortages.
Next, Greece updated the Council on progress on its Action Plan on Asylum and Migration. Greece reiterated the need for European solidarity in this area. The Commission stood ready to assist Greece, but asked that all Member States consider how they could contribute. The UK noted the improved border management at the land border with Turkey but also the significance of the task. The UK committed to look at what more could be done and invited others to do the same. The Presidency concluded that implementation of the Action Plan should now be of the highest priority and that the Council would return to the issue.
During lunch Ministers received an update from key agencies on the situation in Syria. Delegations expressed concern and continued to emphasise the importance of protection being provided in the region. On 21 December the UK announced £15 million in new humanitarian funding for the crisis, bringing our total contribution to £68.5 million.
In the plenary session on Internal Security and Growth, Europol noted that citizens were coming into closer proximity with organised crime as the black economy grew. The latter had an impact on competitiveness. Europol would assess this in the next serious and organised crime threat assessment. Europol was, in particular, seeking to bolster its financial intelligence capacity and encouraged Member States to do the same. The Commission noted the importance of tackling money laundering and seizing criminal profits and drew attention to: the Directive on the confiscation of assets, the 4th Money Laundering Directive, the Directive on the protection of financial interests (PIF), and the upcoming anti-corruption package. Member States generally supported the Presidency’s analysis of the links between internal security and economic growth.
Next the Presidency explained its intention to hold an annual national Missing Persons Day on 4 December. This would be complementary to the International Missing Children’s Day held in May. The Presidency said they would write to colleagues to seek views as to whether this should become an EU Missing Persons Day.
The Presidency scheduled an additional item to discuss the emerging situation in Algeria following the taking of hostages at the In Amenas gas plant the previous day. The Presidency concluded that the security situation in the Sahel / Mali would be discussed at the March JHA Council with a focus on security issues arising for Member States.
Next there was an update from Bulgaria on the Bourgas attack in July which killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver. The UK highlighted that if the Bulgarian evidence suggested the military wing of Hizballah was behind the attack, the EU must consider the designation of Hizballah’s military wing under the EU’s Common Position 931 terrorist asset freezing regime.
Justice Day began with the Commission presenting their package on insolvency which forms part of their ‘Justice for Growth’ Programme. They stated that the broadened scope would assist companies across Europe having greater access to a ‘second chance’. The European Parliament supported the proposal and the idea of partial harmonisation of insolvency law. The UK supported the proposals as being the type of measure that would support the functioning of the single market measure and the objective of allowing business a second chance when they fall into difficulty.
The Presidency invited the head of the Irish Criminal Assets Bureau to present on Irelands proceeds of crime act and the Criminal Assets Bureau information exchange function. The presentation majored on the importance of civil procedure in asset confiscation.
The Council then discussed three issues relating to Data Protection: the household exemption, the right to be forgotten, and sanctions. The Commission explained the working of the regulation on all three points and argued that the right to be forgotten was not incompatible with the freedom of expression and that processing for journalistic or historic purposes were specifically allowed. The UK supported a broader household exemption than in the Commission proposal and advocated the use of a risk based approach. The UK also supported appropriate deletion rights for data subjects, but voiced concern about unachievable expectations in the “right to be forgotten” and felt that the starting point should be the current Directive. The UK thought national supervisory authorities should be given greater discretion in deciding sanctions. The UK called for the text to return to Ministers before any mandate with the European Parliament was agreed in Council. Many Member States expressed support for the direction of work proposed by the Irish Presidency, including a broader household exemption, a more practicable implementation of the right to be forgotten and a simpler and flexible sanctions regime.
Over lunch the Presidency highlighted the need to address racism and xenophobia at political level inviting the Fundamental Rights Agency to present on their latest reports.