Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Security (James Brokenshire):
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council and the Eastern Partnership Ministerial Meeting was held on 7 and 8 October in Luxembourg. 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 Justice Day began with a discussion of the ‘one-stop shop’ in relation to the data protection regulation. The proposal is intended to bring consistency and efficiency to the oversight and enforcement of data protection rules by supervisory authorities, where the data controller concerned has a presence in more than one member state.
Almost all member states supported the idea of a one-stop shop in principle. However, that support was conditional on the way those objectives were achieved, and it was clear that more work was needed.
The presidency concluded that work should now focus on its first proposed model for decisions to be taken by the ‘main establishment’ supervisory authority albeit with restricted powers but an intervention was made and the presidency agreed that the co-decision model should also form part of further work by experts.
The council then agreed a general approach on the criminal law directive on counterfeiting the Euro and other currencies. The UK has not opted in to this proposal.
Vice President Reding presented her recent proposals for the creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) to prosecute offences of fraud against the Union’s budget and for reform of Eurojust, the EU’s judicial cooperation agency. There was support, in principle, from a large proportion of member states (not including the UK) for the EPPO but less agreement on issues of substance, including: scope; structure; competence; powers; jurisdiction and governance. The coalition agreement confirms that the UK will not take part in the establishment of the EPPO. On Eurojust, the UK regretted that the commission had not awaited the outcome of the ongoing peer evaluation of the current framework and the UK sought an explanation as to why no impact assessment had accompanied this proposal. The presidency committed to press ahead with both negotiations in parallel.
Over lunch there was a read-out of the EU/US discussions on data protection which had been taking place in light of the Snowden leaks.
Under any other business, the presidency asked member states to help in lobbying the European Parliament to overcome the current stalemate on delegated and implementing acts on the justice funding instruments.
At the start of the Interior day of the council the presidency announced that ministers had agreed, over lunch, to award the EU Police College (CEPOL) to Hungary on a temporary basis, as one of seven bids that followed the UK’s decision to sell CEPOL’s current site at Bramshill. The presidency noted that the 2005 Council decision specifically naming Bramshill as the seat of CEPOL would still have to be amended and a member state initiative is expected. The government will deposit this in Parliament in the usual way and expects it to trigger an opt-in decision under Protocol 21 to the treaties.
Following a discussion at the June JHA Council, and pending a more comprehensive report to be given at the December JHA Council, the commission (Reding) gave a presentation on free movement rights and the abuse of these rights. Noting that 19 member states had responded to its call for evidence, the commission stated that free movement of EU citizens was one of the fundamental achievements of the EU. However, the commission noted that free movement rights were weakened by abuse and the commission would support member states in using existing EU tools to fight such abuse. These tools included sanctions, such as expulsion and re-entry bans in certain circumstances and with the appropriate safeguards. National authorities could also check whether an EU citizen had become an unreasonable burden, and if so could refuse residence and withhold benefits. The commission noted evidence of a minority of EU mobile citizens with low employment prospects who placed a strain on disadvantaged areas and on local services.
The commission proposed 5 measures to ensure that free movement rules struck the right balance between rights and obligations: working with member states to produce a handbook on sham marriages; clarifying the notion of ‘habitual residence’ through a practical guide; increasing the share of European Social Funds (ESF) available to tackle social inclusion from around 15% to 20%; organising workshops with the ESF managing authorities in the member states to exchange best practice; and inviting the mayors and local leaders of the regions under the most pressure to a conference on free movement issues in spring 2014.
The UK welcomed the commission’s acknowledgement that fraud and abuse was a real issue, but said that there was still some way to go in ensuring that the legitimate concerns expressed by a number of member states were taken seriously. A sterile debate about statistics would undermine public confidence in the EU and its Institutions. The sham marriage handbook needed further work and there was a need for consistent interpretation of the Free Movement Directive, for example on expulsion and re-entry bans. Many member states supported the UK’s position, recognising that whilst free movement was a fundamental principle, fraud and abuse had to be counteracted. The commission took note of the points raised and said they would be reflected in its final report.
Next the presidency and the commission updated ministers on the current EU response to the Syrian situation, described as the ‘worst displacement crisis in the world’. With more than 2 million refugees in total, Syria’s neighbourhood continued to bear the brunt of the crisis and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called for greater resettlement efforts by the international community. To date, 9 EU member states have pledged resettlement places, and the commission encouraged others to follow suit.
The commission said that the Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP) was making progress. A total of £6.8 million had also been mobilised from the European Refugee Fund (ERF), but it was critical to note that only £3.3 million remained in the pot for emergency actions. Future measures which might need to be considered were: greater cooperation between European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the member states under pressure; activating the civil protection mechanism under the right conditions; and triggering the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) should the situation continue to deteriorate to the point where the threshold was met.
The EU’s High Representative (Cathy Ashton) described the situation on the ground. She welcomed the UN Security Council Resolution and noted that the neighbouring countries were becoming increasingly unstable. 25% of Lebanon’s population was now made up of Syrian refugees. The Geneva II process continued, but had a long way to go, as the projection for the next year was that the total refugee population would increase to 3.9 million. EASO noted that for half the EU member states, Syrians were now within the top 3 asylum intake. The UK highlighted that it had provided over £500m to the relief effort in the region, as well as participating in the RDPP with a contribution of £425,000. For the UK, more protection and support in the region, rather than resettlement activity, was necessary for a sustainable longer term solution. The presidency called for close monitoring of the situation, and asked the commission to pursue further solutions.
Next, Italy outlined the tragedy which took place on 3 October in Lampedusa, proposing rapid establishment of a taskforce to oversee a range of measures in response. The commission supported the measures proposed by Italy, and announced its proposal for a Mediterranean-wide search and rescue mission to intercept migrant boats from Cyprus to Spain, working in collaboration with Frontex. This should be accompanied by quick implementation of EUROSUR, the planned external border surveillance system for the Schengen area. In addition, Commissioner Malmström urged member states to consider both resettlement and relocation activities to demonstrate real solidarity for those Member States at the external border. Commissioner Malmström announced that she would be visiting Lampedusa with President Barroso the following day. Baroness Ashton underlined the importance of working with Libya and joined others in noting the difficulty of further progress on joint migration work with the Libyan authorities. Frontex was more cautious regarding the ability to conduct enhanced search and rescue efforts, highlighting that no provision for such activity was available in the budget reserve for 2013.
Most ministers took the floor to express their condolences. Support was given to the idea of a joint taskforce, as well as increased cooperation with third countries to dissuade migrants from making these dangerous journeys or to detect them earlier. It was agreed that the focus should be on effective engagement with the Libyan authorities. The UK agreed that the collective response must improve. There was a need to target the organised criminal groups which exploited the migrants, and to have a better and more coherent dialogue on Migration, Mobility and Security with an increased emphasis on border management. Migration issues needed to be fully incorporated into the EU’s wider external engagement with countries of origin and transit. The commission agreed to take forward the setting up of the taskforce, and would provide more information on the search and rescue operation shortly.
Ministers were briefed by Baroness Ashton on the importance of civilian contributions to Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions, particularly in the field of justice and home affairs (JHA). The success of the missions was underlined, as were the challenges of maintaining them. Particular attention was drawn to the sizeable contribution made by secondees from justice and home affairs ministries. Ministers were thanked for these contributions and were encouraged to do even more.
The commission briefly updated on the outcome of the first Relocation Forum on 25 September. The objective of the forum was to offer discussion on the mechanics for relocation, in order to assist those member states which would in the future consider relocating. The commission underlined its voluntary nature, a point which EASO echoed, and noted it should not be confused with resettlement.
The Finnish delegation briefly noted the Ministerial Conference on Schengen States with External Land Borders, which took place on 13 September, involving the interior ministers of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Slovak Republic. The conference had led to a number of joint commitments on cooperation between various authorities in order to secure the internal area.
Greece noted progress made in recent months against its national action plan. The new Asylum and Appeals Service had opened its doors on 7 June, and already registered a total of 2,547 applications. The first mobile screening units had been deployed to some of the islands, and the authorities were still on track to open the first reception centre in Lesbos at the end of 2013.
In the margins of the JHA Council, the presidency facilitated a plenary discussion with the eastern partnership countries on judicial reform, judicial cooperation, the rule of law, corruption, organised crime, cybercrime, and migration and mobility. Ministers adopted a joint declaration and the presidency hoped it would be the first of many such meetings.