The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Theresa May):
The Informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 8 and 9 July in Milan. My Honourable Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice (Shailesh Vara MP) and a senior Home Office official attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following items were discussed.
The Interior Day began with a discussion of the Strategic Guidelines for legislative and operational planning in JHA that were agreed at the June European Council. The discussion focused on the migration aspects, and on the proposed replacement of the EU’s Internal Security Strategy.
On migration, the Commission highlighted the progress being made on the EU’s legal migration policy and called for full implementation of the Common European Asylum System, for action against the smuggling of migrants and for enhanced regional protection efforts.
A number of Member States said that limited migration from outside the EU was necessary to address skill shortages, though stressing that it needed to be balanced with action against illegal migration. Others emphasised that policy on legal migration should be primarily for Member States to determine (legislation in this area only applies to the UK if we opt in to it). Some called for more action to address migration problems at their source and a more effective returns policy. The UK argued for effective action to tackle abuse of free movement.
The Presidency concluded by calling for a balanced approach to migration addressing both legal and illegal aspects.
The Commission announced that it will issue a Communication on the Internal Security Strategy in early 2015, and hold a conference in Brussels on 29 September. Many Member States intervened calling, variously, for a short and focused strategy and for the strategy to cover the organised crime policy cycle, cyber security, counter radicalisation, data exchange and environmental crimes.
The UK called for the new strategy to cover modern slavery, foreign fighters and the exchange of Passenger Name Records. The Presidency agreed that foreign fighters were a top priority and also emphasised the need to agree the draft Passenger Name Records Directive.
The Council then discussed the implementation of Task Force Mediterranean, its agreed programme of actions to deal with illegal migration in the Mediterranean region.
The Presidency called for FRONTEX to step up its activity in the region so the Italian “Mare Nostrum” search and rescue operation could be scaled back. The Commission called for a single, coherent operational structure to coordinate Mare Nostrum with FRONTEX’s operations. It also called for more efforts to persuade Tunisia to address the problem of its boats being used to pick up migrants in Libya, for the EU Border Assistance Mission to Libya to be reinforced and for Member States to resettle more refugees from outside the EU. The UK
emphasised the importance of concerted action at the regional level and welcomed the involvement of the European External Action service in working with countries of origin.
On Justice Day the Council discussed whether there should be greater flexibility within the proposed General Data Protection Regulation for Member States to provide a higher standard of data protection for the public sector at national level. Various approaches were discussed, including providing for specific exemptions throughout the text of the proposed Regulation. The UK argued that the best way to achieve the desired flexibility was to legislate by way of a Directive rather than a Regulation as this already provides sufficient flexibility under the current framework. Member States in general believed that flexibility at national level for the public sector was necessary but further discussion on how this would be best achieved was required in the Council’s technical working group.
The second session was an exchange of views on the proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). The Presidency asked whether the proposal provided for an appropriate system of judicial review and, in particular, whether certain decisions by it to dismiss cases should be subject to judicial review.
The majority of Member States agreed that some form of judicial review before national Courts was necessary, although there was no consensus over which decisions should be subject to review. The UK is not participating in the proposal to establish an EPPO and did not take part in the discussion. The Presidency concluded that further discussion was needed at expert level.
Over lunch, there was a discussion on the justice aspects of the strategic guidelines agreed by the European Council, especially developments regarding mutual recognition of judgments, and freezing and confiscation orders. Member States, including the UK, reinforced the message in the JHA strategic guidelines that the priority is now to implement and consolidate the EU acquis in the Justice area rather than bring forward new legislation. The main feature of the discussion was the importance of judicial training to support implementation. Most Member States wanted to see further EU support for judicial training, although some including the UK, cautioned about the need to ensure that judicial training remained primarily a matter of national competence.
During the final session, the Presidency introduced its paper on the Commission’s proposal to abolish legalisation (a formality to confirm the authenticity of a public document) and reduce the need for certified copies and translations. Member States were invited to give views on the scope of the proposal and on the need for new information technology to support cross-border cooperation in this area.
Almost all Member States who intervened believed that the scope should be limited only to civil status documents (i.e. birth, marriage, death) in the first instance. The UK agreed that the scope should be limited in this way, and set out the reasons why the inclusion of educational certificates, intellectual property documents, and court judgments should not fall within the scope of the proposal. The UK also argued that the proposal should provide a common format for translations of civil status documents rather than creating a legal status for common format multi-lingual forms. This would avoid legal uncertainty and respect the sovereignty of Member States in issuing the documents.
The Commission proposed to use the existing Internal Market IT system for a cross-border verification mechanism, but was willing if necessary to consider a feasibility study for a new IT system. The UK opposed this on cost grounds. The Presidency concluded that there was strong preference for a step-by-step approach with the initial scope limited to civil status document and further work was required on the most appropriate IT system to use.