The EU Justice and Home Affairs Council of Ministers will meet on 7 and 8 December in Brussels. I will represent the UK for Interior day. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the rt hon David Lidington MP will represent the UK for Justice day.
Interior day (07 December) will begin with an exchange of views on the interim report and recommendations of the High-level Expert Group on Radicalisation (HLEG-R), which was set up to consider how best to address radicalisation in EU Member States. The non-EU Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG) will present to Council their assessment of the terrorist threat in the EU, and update on recent capability developments, including on work needed to improve cooperation with the law enforcement community. I will intervene positively in support of HLEG-R and CTG activities.
This will be followed by a discussion on cooperation between Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operations and EU JHA agencies. This work aims to join up the activity of JHA agencies more effectively with EU security and defence missions in third countries. The Commission will identify lessons that can be learnt from existing cooperation, such as Operation Sophia (tackling migrant traffickers in the Central Mediterranean) for other CSDP operations and JHA agencies. The UK supports improving cooperation in this area and I will endorse this work-stream.
The Commission will update on the state of play on implementation of the Directive on the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data. The UK has the most developed capability for processing PNR data in Europe and will continue to offer advice and support to Member States in the development of their own capabilities.
There will be a progress report on the technical discussions on improving interoperability of EU information systems, following the recommendations made by a High Level Expert Group in June. The Commission is also expected to set out the principles behind their forthcoming legislative proposal on this issue. The UK supports efforts to improve interoperability of EU information systems, but we will need to scrutinise the proposal when it is published.
This will be followed by a progress report from the Presidency on negotiations on the reform of the Common European Asylum System. The UK has not opted in to the majority of these measures, and I am unlikely to intervene on this item.
The Presidency will then seek a General Approach on the proposed EU-LISA Regulation. The Government has opted in to the draft Regulation and has no concerns with the text, but as the proposals have not cleared Parliamentary Scrutiny, I will abstain on the vote in Council.
At a working lunch Ministers will debate the strengthening of the Schengen area which is likely to focus on improving Schengen border management through a variety of coordinated actions, including the proposed Schengen internal borders legislative package which was published in September. The UK does not participate in the Schengen border free zone and I will not intervene in this discussion.
In the afternoon, the Presidency will provide an update on discussions exploring the implications of the Court of Justice of the European Union judgment in the TELE2 / Watson case from December 2016, and the circumstances in which Member States can require the retention of communications data. The UK continues to play a leading role in these discussions. I will update the Council on the proposed UK approach reflecting the principles set out in our consultation, launched on 30 November, on new safeguards for the use of communications data.
In addition, there will be a policy debate on best practice in tackling encrypted data. The UK is supportive of work in this area and is keen to ensure that law enforcement can access the data they need to protect the public, but that any proposals do not weaken internet security or jeopardise existing good cooperation with service providers.
Finally the Council will received updates on the Third meeting of the Central Mediterranean Contact Group which took place in Bern on 13 November 2017; the outcomes of the EU Internet Forum meeting on 6 December; and the Presidency’s mid-term review of the JHA strategic guidelines. The incoming Bulgarian Presidency will also give a presentation on their work programme and priorities.
Justice day (08 December) will begin with the Presidency seeking a General Approach on the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) Directive and the Regulation regarding exchange of information on third country nationals (ECRIS-TCN). There appears to be broad agreement the text prior to the JHA Council, which the Government can support, although as the proposals have not cleared Parliamentary Scrutiny, we will abstain on any vote in Council.
A second General Approach will be sought on Justice day for the proposed Regulation on mutual recognition of freezing and confiscation orders. Whilst there is not yet agreement among Member States on whether this should take the form of a Regulation or a Directive, we expect the Presidency to seek a Qualified Majority on the basis of a Regulation. The UK remains neutral on this question. This proposal has not yet cleared Parliamentary Scrutiny and so we will abstain should there be a vote.
There will be an update from the Presidency to Ministers on progress on the EU accession to the European Convention of Human Rights, following ECJ Opinion 2/13 in December 2014. Although progress has been slow, the responsible working group in the Council has now held a first discussion on all but one of the issues raised by the Court’s opinion. The outstanding issue is the question of whether Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) would fall within the jurisdiction of the ECtHR after accession; a paper on this is expected from the Commission. The Presidency is expected to ask the Commission for an update on the timing of this paper, but no questions will be posed of Ministers.
The lunchtime discussion will be on preparations for the next e-justice strategy and action plan.
Justice day will resume with a policy debate on the recast Brussels IIa Regulation. The Presidency will be asking Ministers to confirm that the recast Brussels IIa Regulation should abolish for all types of judgments the procedure by which judgments from one country are recognised for enforcement in another (known as exequatur) and that the method by which this is done should be considered further by the negotiations working group. The UK continues to support the abolition of exequatur subject to the inclusion of sufficient safeguards.
Finally, there will be a policy debate on the draft proposals for a Directive on Preventive Restructuring, Second Chance and Insolvency Proceedings. The Presidency has set out conclusions for agreement by Ministers on the future direction of work. The UK is generally supportive of these conclusions.