Written statement to Parliament

Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Godoll 20 and 21 January 2011: post-council statement

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Post-Council statement Baroness Neville-Jones: My Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for the Home…

Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Post-Council statement Baroness Neville-Jones: My Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Theresa May) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement: My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke MP) and I attended the Informal Justice and Home Affairs Council on 20 and 21 January in Godoll.

Discussions on the Interior day centred on two themes: “Internal Security: combining efforts in combating organised crime” and “comprehensive security through integrated border management”.

The Commission opened the item on organised crime by highlighting cybercrime and asset recovery; they felt there was a need to focus on the exchange of best practice. The Chair of the European Parliament LIBE Committee suggested that proving the effectiveness of the EU in the security field was one of the biggest challenges for the EU.

The Europol Director gave a preview of their organised crime threat assessment noting an increasing risk in particular in relation to the infiltration of the legal economy and facilitation of illegal activity by the internet. There was an increasing use of aircraft and helicopters for smuggling of goods, use of minors for petty crime and sexual exploitation, an upsurge in counterfeiting and a largely unnoticed trade in endangered species. Interpol highlighted the ability of organised crime to destabilise whole countries and gave the example of cocaine trafficking via West Africa.

The UK said that it recognised organised crime as a real threat alongside counterterrorism and would be developing a new strategy. In particular the UK acknowledged cybercrime as requiring particular attention, although it was often old crimes committed by new methods. The UK welcomed practical cooperation, rather than legislation, and agreed with the Presidency that we needed to look imaginatively at ways of tackling crime, including seizure of assets. Most Member States thought further work on asset freezing, confiscation and sharing was a priority and welcomed the Commission’s commitment to bring forward a report on the issues in the second half of 2011.

The Commission opened the second session by highlighting action they were taking. They would forward a border package over the next year, including looking at an EU Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) and a proposal on a European border surveillance system (EUROSUR). They also saw a need to finalise discussion on the new Frontex Regulation and to reform the Schengen Evaluation Mechanism.

Frontex, the EU’s External Borders Agency, felt that priorities were better inter-agency cooperation, situational awareness and targeted cooperation at the border. Frontex also needed to be able to do more on capacity building and returns with third countries. The UK stated that it was correct to focus on integrated management of the border and supported the Greek action plan, which was critical to the EU’s collective success. For the UK modern technologies were a key part of a 21st century response to maintain border security whilst facilitating legitimate travel. For that reason the UK supported the philosophy behind EU proposals for registered travellers and an entry-exit scheme and, given our experience, the introduction of biometric visas. We were concerned about the UK’s exclusion from the proposal for the Schengen Evaluation Mechanism. The eborders system allowed the UK to focus resources and evidence suggested that intra-EU flights were important and hoped that would be covered by the new EU passenger name records measure. In subsequent discussion many Member States highlighted the use of technology as important and in particular interoperability of technologies. Many welcomed the Commission proposals for amendment to the Schengen Evaluation mechanism and thought that greater use needed to be made of Frontex.

The Justice Day began with a discussion on a Communication published by the Commission entitled “EU Citizenship: how to dismantle the obstacles to EU citizens’ rights?” This sets out what the Commission considers to be the obstacles EU citizens face when trying to exercise their rights across national borders and suggests actions to
tackle them. Among other things, the Presidency invited discussion about whether the Justice and Home Affairs Council should adopt an oversight role over the actions suggested in the report, but this gained little support. The UK welcomed the overview the Commission report provided and highlighted criminal justice as an area where we
needed absolute confidence in others’ systems. The UK suggested that the Commission should also focus on making it easier for individuals and businesses to enforce civil debts across borders.

Ministers were also asked what they considered to be the key elements of the proposal on Succession and Wills in simplifying citizens’ rights. This gave rise to a substantial debate. The UK reiterated its concerns with this proposal.

Over lunch, the Presidency held a discussion on the role of the Council in ensuring the effective implementation of the Charter of fundamental rights in the legislative process. Their paper raised the question whether there was a need for further Council processes to verify Member States’ compliance with the Charter. The UK, together with a number of other Member States, questioned whether there was sufficient support for the Presidency’s proposal to be taken forward.

Next, there was a discussion on “Judicial training: how to improve training of legal professionals in the EU”. The Stockholm Programme stressed the importance of judicial training and the Commission has committed to producing a Communication on training of legal practitioners in September 2011. The majority of Member States, including the
UK, did not favour creation of a new training institution, preferring to build on existing structures including the European Judicial Training Network. The UK welcomed the intention of improving judges’ knowledge of EU law and each others’ systems and particularly the Commission’s recognition that it would have to accommodate very
different systems.

Date: Thu Jan 27 11:22:16 GMT 2011