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An informal meeting of EU Interior and Justice Ministers took place on 18/19 July in Helsinki, Finland. The Home Office Europe Director, Chris Jones, represented the UK for Interior Day. The Ministry of Justice Director, International and Rights, Paul Candler, represented the UK on Justice Day.
Interior Day began with a discussion on the Future of EU Internal Security, where the Presidency noted its intention to discuss further at the October JHA Council to inform the new Commission’s work programme. In a broad ranging discussion, a number of issues were raised including: the new Commission President’s commitment to promote cross-border cooperation; the importance of enhancing Europol; the use of EU funding programmes to support internal security activity; the need to modernise Prüm; the importance of SIS II; and tackling child exploitation. The UK intervened to support the broad thrust of the Presidency’s paper, focusing on the importance on access to data and challenges from new technology, especially the need for early engagement with the private sector to protect law enforcement capabilities.
The Council then discussed the Future of EU Migration policy. Ministers raised a broad range of issues, with a focus on the revision of the EU’s Common European Asylum System legislation, which remains unresolved. Other issues raised including the need to address lack of cooperation by third countries on readmission, a focus on EU-Africa co-operation to tackle illegal migration, disembarkation platforms in third countries, the need for better external checks at the EU’s borders, and the problem of secondary movements. The UK did not intervene.
Over lunch, the Finnish Presidency presented to Ministers on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) by law enforcement, after which followed a brief discussion on the benefits and risks from the use of AI. Discussion addressed the need to protect people from both private sector capabilities and state actors, and considered how EU privacy concepts needed to be reconsidered in the law enforcement context. The Commission highlighted plans to prioritise consideration of the impact of AI, 5G and risks to digital infrastructure. The UK did not intervene.
After lunch, Ministers undertook a tabletop exercise focused on identifying and dealing with hybrid threats. Ministers were asked to consider and vote on responses to a fictional scenario. The post-scenario discussion considered the use of the EU’s solidarity clause. The UK did not intervene.
Justice Day began with a discussion on the Strengthening of the Rule of Law. Justice Ministers agreed that significant domestic responsibility for rule of law fell to them and their Ministries. National courts implemented EU law and ensured mutual trust was possible, while judicial training and judicial co-operation mechanisms were vital. All Ministers agreed, therefore, that the Justice Council should have a role. The UK noted commitment to the Rules Based International Order, highlighting in particular the work of the Venice Commission, the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 16, and the benefits of direct judicial co-operation.
The Council then discussed criminal judicial cooperation, in particular Alternatives to Detention and the issues relating to prison overcrowding. Discussion centred around the aim of considering alternatives to prison. For most, the aim was not reduction of prison populations but, rather, improved rehabilitation. Member States were clear that national rules should not be harmonised, but regarded mutual trust in appropriate sanctions, and in prison conditions, as a precondition for mutual recognition.