Justice and Home Affairs Council

Home Department written question – answered on 17th December 2003.

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Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall Labour, Leicester South

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held on 27 to 28 November was; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

My noble Friends (Baroness Scotland) and (Lord Filkin) represented the United Kingdom at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels on 27–28 November.

A list of 'A' points approved (with the exception of item 34) at the Council has been placed in the Library (Documents PTS A 63 15256/03 and ADD 1).

The Presidency concluded a general approach on the draft Framework Decision on drug trafficking but noted four Parliamentary Reserves and that the European Parliament will be re-consulted.

The Presidency also concluded a general approach on the draft Mutual Legal Assistance agreement between the EU and Norway and Iceland and noted two outstanding Parliamentary Reserves. It hoped that the Council Decision authorising the Presidency to sign the Agreement would be adopted on 8 December.

Similarly the proposal for a regulation creating a European Enforcement Order for uncontested civil claims was the subject of a general approach. Lord Filkin noted the UK's Parliamentary Reservation on Article 2. Two other member states had other reservations and the Presidency therefore suggested the remaining difficulties should be discussed at a technical meeting. They hoped to be able to adopt a common position by the end of the year to allow consideration by the European Parliament and adoption of the Regulation in this legislature.

The Presidency noted the conclusions of the last meeting of the Police Chiefs' Task Force and the willingness to make more effective use of liaison officers.

Draft Council conclusions on strengthening community co-operation in the field of civil protection assistance were adopted and the Commission indicated that in early 2004 it planned to present a Communication building on these.

Under Any Other Business four member states, including the UK, confirmed they had passed their domestic legislation implementing the European Arrest Warrant. Six member states indicated that they planned to do so by 31 December 2003 deadline but five member states envisaged some slippage.

Separately, the Presidency proposed the adoption of a charter on the importance of inter-faith dialogue. Following a meeting in the margins of the council the text of a non-binding statement was agreed but will only be adopted when two member states have lifted their reservations.

The Presidency noted the progress made on the Asylum Procedures Directive: they had inherited a measure with 239 reservations on the text but only 37 now remained. Nonetheless given that these related to contentious issues (safe third countries, safe countries of origin, and appeals), the Presidency concluded that discussion should continue under the Irish Presidency, with a view to concluding by the deadline in the Amsterdam Treaty (1 May 2004).

The Commission (Vitorino) reported its work on the proposed minimum common list of safe country of origin to be adopted with the Directive. Work would be taken forward to identify which of the 22 countries that member states had proposed could be included in the list.

One member state was not yet in a position to agree the draft Directive on Minimum Standards for the Qualification and Status of Third-Country Nationals and Stateless Persons as Refugees and so the Presidency noted that discussion would continue under the Irish Presidency, which would aim to agree the Directive before 1 May 2004.

The Presidency reported on the outcome of the seminar, "Towards more orderly and managed entry in the EU of persons in need of international protection" which had focused on the merits of an EU resettlement programme and EU-level protected entry procedures. The Presidency's document aimed to guide the work of the Commission in preparing its report to the June 2004 European Council on legal means of entry for refugees to the EU and improvements to the protection capacity of refugees' regions of origin.

Given member states differing views on the Council Directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of paid and self-employment the Presidency would consider future handling. (The UK has not opted in to this proposal).

The Mixed Committee reached a general approach on draft Council Conclusions on the European External Borders Agency, and these were subsequently adopted in the Council itself.

Baroness Scotland stressed our desire to participate as fully as possible in the work of the Agency and the benefits this would bring to all. Two other member states supported. Commissioner Vitorino stressed his desire for the UK and Ireland to participate within the framework of the agency. He stressed that, although there might be institutional consequences, these should not be allowed to undermine the work of the Agency. He also urged member states to reach political agreement on what they wanted from the Agency, stating that only then could the participants' legal positions be addressed.

A general approach was reached on the Sea Borders Agency Work Programme (which was subsequently adopted by the Council) after one member state withdrew its reservations.

The Mixed Committee and the Council agreed a general approach on the Regulations laying down a uniform format for visas and residence permits, and adopted the associated Council Conclusions, which dealt with the need for an additional legal instrument to deal with the storage of biometric visa data.

In the margins of the Council on 28 November Baroness Scotland represented the UK at a meeting with Ministers from the countries of the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro.

The UK welcomed the action they are taking or planning to meet their commitments, made at the London Conference and Thessaloniki summit, to fight organised crime and improve border management. Baroness Scotland underlined the need for implementation of these plans and continued co-operation with the EU, with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague and within the region.

The directors of Europol and Eurojust briefly outlined the work they are doing in the region, although in the latter's case this was at an early stage.

In relation to borders the Commission welcomed some of the specific action plans that countries in the region had developed but stressed that these were just a beginning that they would need to be improved.

The joint conclusions were adopted and the Netherlands noted they would organise a follow-up ministerial conference during their Presidency to assess progress against commitments made today.

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