Written statement to Parliament

Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) pre-Council statement

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

This written ministerial statement was laid in the House of Commons on 26 October 2011 by Damian Green. The Justice and Home Affairs Council…

The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on the 27 and 28 October in Luxembourg. My Right Honourable Friend, the Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke MP), the Scottish Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.

The Council will begin in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen States). There will be an update on the Commission-led project to implement the central element of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II); the UK will continue to reiterate its support for the continuation of the current SIS II project.

Next the Commission will give an update on the roll out of the central Visa Information System (VIS). The UK is not bound by the VIS regulation because it does not participate in the common visa element of the Schengen acquis.

The Commission will present and invite an exchange of views on whether member states can support the legislative instrument amending Regulation (EC) NO 1931/2006 as regards the inclusion of the Kaliningrad area and certain Polish administrative districts in the eligible border area. The UK is not bound by this Regulation since it relates to that part of the Schengen agreement in which the UK does not participate.

There will be a presentation by the Commission on their communication on smart borders. The communication addresses options, implications and possible ways forward in developing both a European entry/exit system and a registered traveller programme (brought together under the heading of smart borders). The initiatives will rely on developing technologies to expedite border crossings for regular travellers whilst maintaining the security and the integrity of border controls. They aim to include technical infrastructure issues, data protection aspects and the costs incurred in developing and operating both systems, which are aimed at third-country nationals crossing the Schengen external borders. The UK is excluded from both the measures since it does not participate in the common visa element of the Schengen acquis.

There will also be the signature of the mobility partnership between the EU and Armenia by those member states who will participate in this partnership. The UK has no plans to participate and will not take part in the signing of the partnership.

The main Council will start with a state of play discussion on the progress of the dossiers forming the second phase of the common European asylum system (CEAS). This has been a regular item at recent JHA councils as the deadline for agreeing the dossiers in 2012 approaches. The UK does not support a common asylum system involving further legislative harmonisation, but we do support practical action to secure effective asylum systems, including returns. While we do not believe that further legislation setting common standards is the way to achieve this, we will work with member states to make sure any new legislation is as practical as possible and can be implemented on the ground.

There will be state of play discussions on two directives presented by the presidency. The first concerns a single application procedure for a single permit for non-EU member nationals to reside and work in a member state and on a common set of rights for non-EU member workers legally residing in a member state. The second deals with minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection and the content of the protection granted. Both of these directives have reached agreement in principle within the Council however there is an outstanding issue of correlation tables that needs to be resolved with the European Parliament. The UK has not opted into either of these instruments.

There will be a progress report on Greece’s national action plan on asylum reform and migration management. The UK will take the opportunity to acknowledge the improvements that have taken place, while putting pressure on Greece to step up the pace of reform and to tackle its unacceptable detention facilities for asylum seekers.

There will then be a presentation by the Commission and a first exchange of views on the Commission communication on the integration of third-country nationals, which was published on 20 July. There are no immediate legal or legislative implications; integration strategies are a matter of national competence and the communication acknowledges this. The communication is broadly in line with the UK’s views on integration: we welcome the emphasis on a flexible approach including action at local and national level, acquisition of language skills and recognition that integration is a two-way process (migrant and host country).
Over lunch we expect ministers will discuss an Austrian-Hungarian joint paper on illegal migration and visa liberalisation, with a particular focus on the western Balkans. Discussion will also include illegal immigration via the southern Mediterranean, and in particular current developments in Libya and Tunisia, requested by Italy. The UK will raise the need to tackle abuse of free movement, including sham marriages.

The Commission will also present its communication ‘Towards a stronger European response to drugs’ and there will be a discussion on the draft European pact against synthetic drugs. The Presidency will look to agree the draft text of the pact. The UK welcomes the priority that the Presidency has given to this important issue and approves of the draft text in the pact. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) will also present its 2011 Annual report on the state of the drug problems in Europe.

There will be an orientation debate on options for a European terrorist finance tracking system (TFTS) on the basis of a Commission communication which was published in July. This meets a commitment to the European Parliament to consider the feasibility of an EU system following the adoption last year of the EU-US terrorist finance tracking programme (TFTP). The government’s view is that the necessity of an EU system has not yet been demonstrated. There are also important questions around legal base, operational requirements and costs that are yet to be adequately answered. As such the government does not believe it can choose between any of the available options at this stage. The UK will make clear that no decision can be taken on a way forward without first seeing a full impact assessment of each of the options (including the option of maintaining the status quo). This assessment must address the questions about necessity of an EU system; about the technical, legal and operational issues involved; and about the likely high costs.

The Commission will be presenting its communication on cooperation in the area of the JHA within the eastern partnership (EaP). The communication sets out proposals on how to strengthen JHA cooperation with the EaP countries, and the UK endorses the pragmatic focus on the consolidation and streamlining of existing frameworks. Promoting EU engagement with the EaP remains a priority for the Polish Presidency, and the UK recognises the importance of offering continued support to the EU’s neighbours. There has been broad support for the communication so far and a general consensus that new structures are not required. The Presidency is expected to prepare draft Council conclusions after an exchange of views at the Council.

Finally, the Presidency will make a presentation on the state of play of the negotiations for an EU-US data protection agreement. The Council agreed a negotiating mandate at the 2010 December council.

The Justice day will begin with the Commission presenting its newly published ‘Regulation on a EU common sales law’. This issue was discussed in general terms at the informal JHA Council on 19 July and this will be an opportunity for the Commission to explain its proposed action. Over lunch there will be a further discussion of some aspects of sales law.

There will then be a discussion regarding the draft directive on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest. This is the third proposal on the EU’s criminal procedural rights roadmap, which sets minimum standards for the rights of the defence. This measure was presented at the September JHA Council when the UK informed the Council that it had not opted in to this directive.

Next, there will be an orientation debate on the draft directive on establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. The UK has opted in to this draft directive.

The Presidency will also provide a state of play update on the draft directive on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. A general approach was reached on this proposal at the JHA Council in December 2010.

Finally, under non-legislative activities, there is an item regarding judicial training. A Commission communication was published in September and the Commission made a presentation at the last Council meeting. It is expected that the Council will be asked to agree the draft Council conclusions on the Commission’s communication.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Date: Wed Oct 26 09:42:52 BST 2011