A meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council took place on 8 and 9 June in Luxembourg. The Council took place on the day of, and the day after, the General Election. I represented the UK for Justice day. The UK’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, Sir Tim Barrow, and Shona Riach, Home Office Europe Director, represented the UK for Interior day.
The Council agreed a number of proposals without discussion on Justice day, including a number of Council Conclusions on areas including returns, children in migration and information exchange and information management including interoperability solutions.
Justice day began with the participating Member States agreeing a General Approach on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) under enhanced cooperation. The UK has always been clear that we will not participate.
A General Approach was achieved on the Supply of Digital Content Directive. However, some concerns on a specific article remained; trilogues under the Estonian Presidency are likely to come back to these issues. I expressed the UK’s support for the Presidency’s compromise.
There was a policy debate on the European Commission (Commission) proposal for a provision on hearing the views of the child in parental responsibility cases arising from the Brussels IIa Regulation. There was broad support for such a provision. The Commission urged Member States to make progress as it would help resolve the problem of refusal of recognition and enforcement of judgments on the basis that the child had not been heard. The UK agrees that refusal of recognition and enforcement of judgments is a problem but I asked that Member States keep options open going forward, rather than committing to a provision now.
For the Insolvency Directive, the Presidency presented the Maltese Presidency’s paper on the role of national courts in restructuring procedures and the principle that debtors should remain, in whole or in part, in possession of their business. The UK supports the Directive and I welcomed the direction of travel on both issues. The Presidency concluded that Member States had shown support on both issues and work would continue at the technical level.
There was then a discussion on the Money Laundering Directive, for which a General Approach was achieved. The UK has not opted in to this proposal.
The Presidency reached a General Approach on the recast of Regulation 45/2001, which regulates the processing of personal data by EU institutions and bodies, and was being re-cast to bring it in line with the wider EU data protection package. As the proposal has not yet cleared parliamentary scrutiny in the UK, I did not give a position.
Over lunch, EU Ministers discussed ways of countering illegal hate speech online. The Commission updated the Council on the second progress report on cooperation with internet service providers. EU Ministers expressed support for the Commission’s work in this area. The Government views cooperation with internet service providers as an important step in the collective work to reduce harm caused by hate online, and I suggested producing a toolkit to help small platforms to apply the same standards as bigger providers.
After lunch, at the start of a joint session of Interior and Justice Ministers, the Council held a one minute silence to remember those killed and injured in the Manchester and London Bridge terrorist attacks. I then provided an update on the attacks. I noted the quick and effective response from our emergency services and that the investigations were ongoing. I also thanked Ministers for the many messages of condolence, and stressed the need to work together to combat radicalisation and deprive extremists of safe spaces to operate online.
The Council then moved on to discuss Criminal Justice in Cyberspace, covering e-evidence, data retention and encryption.
For e-evidence, the Commission presented a number of practical measures as well as possible legislative approaches for improving cross-border access to electronic evidence. The Government agrees we must be able to bring to justice cross-border crimes planned, facilitated or committed online irrespective of where the electronic evidence is stored. I underlined the importance of this agenda, in particular for bringing terrorists to justice and set out practical action which could help. The Presidency concluded that the Commission should continue to seek expert input whilst developing legislative proposals.
For encryption, the Commission presented an update on the challenges caused by end-to-end encryption for law enforcement, as well as the technical and legal issues.
For data retention, the Presidency provided a brief update on discussions held so far in the Friends of the Presidency group on Data Retention. The Government has played a leading role in the group and fully supports these discussions as a way of building an evidence base for the necessity of retention.
The final discussion on Justice day was focussed on safeguarding children involved in irregular migration to Europe across the Mediterranean. EU Ministers agreed that protecting children at all stages is a priority and endorsed the need for a comprehensive approach to migration.
Interior day began with the agreement of a General Approach on the European Travel and Information Authorisation System (ETIAS). As the UK is not part of the border control aspects of the Schengen agreement, it will not take part in this proposal.
This was followed by a policy debate on the Second Generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) proposals. There was broad agreement among EU Ministers that the SIS II could be used for entering preventive alerts on children at risk of abduction and disappearance, with the caveat that clear definitions were needed. There was also some support from EU Ministers on the creation of a new alert on the SIS II for ‘inquiry checks’ against suspected criminals or terrorists.
There was then a general discussion on actions to address the migration crisis, with a focus on the EU-Turkey agreement and the Central Mediterranean. Member States were encouraged to take an active role in implementing the Malta Declaration.
Over a working lunch focused on Counter Terrorism, there was a progress update on the work of the Counter Terrorism Group followed by a presentation of fiches on data sharing with EU agencies from Counter Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove. There was also a discussion on proposals to bring together the various European bodies responsible for countering radicalisation, including the Radicalisation Awareness Network and the European Strategic Communications Network.
The afternoon session began with a debate on key operational practices and obstacles of returns policy and the use of visas as leverage. It was concluded that Member States would need to work together on returns and readmission and that the next step would be to look at where and when leverage should be used.
There was then a discussion on Information Systems and Interoperability, following the final report of the High Level Expert Group on data sharing (HLEG). The HLEG’s priorities were highlighted, including a shared biometric matching service and a common data repository, while the need to improve data quality, implement PNR and improve cooperation with Europol and Interpol were common themes in discussion.
Finally, there was an update on negotiations on the seven legislative proposals on the Common European Asylum System. Of these measures, the UK has only opted in to the recast Eurodac Regulation.
Over both days the Estonian delegation set out their priorities for their Presidency of the Council of the EU, which begins in July. The fight against terrorism and serious crime will continue to be a priority. ECRIS will remain a priority file, as will criminal justice in cyberspace and data retention. The incoming Presidency will prioritise safeguarding Schengen and free movement in the face of terrorism and mass migration, meaning that the asylum package, the Valletta Action Plan, returns, and the Blue Card Directive will be priority files, as will work on radicalisation, interoperability of EU information systems, the Entry Exit system and ETIAS. Prüm, Passenger Name Records (PNR) and a renewed mandate for EU LISA will also be high on the agenda, as will cooperation between the EU and Ukraine.
This statement has also been made in the House of Commons: