§ Mr. Straw
My hon. Friends the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), and I represented the United Kingdom at the Council. The main matters dealt with were as follows:
The Council agreed as 'A' points, among other things: draft rules on the Europol pension fund; an extension of the mandate of the Europol Drugs Unit (EDU) management team; draft rules governing the transmission of personal data by Europol to third states and bodies; a report on the activities of EDU/Europol in 1998; and a Regulation determining those nationals of third countries who require a visa when crossing the external borders of the European Union.
Europol: Preparation for taking up activities
The Presidency sought information from individual member states on the progress they had made on agreeing the mandates for the appointment of Europol Directors, and on completing the exchange of bilateral notes with the Dutch Government which will govern the position of Europol Liaison Officers.
The Presidency also reported the latest state of play concerning the draft rules of procedure to be adopted by Europol's Joint Supervisory Body. This matter will be considered again at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in May.
On the issue of the extension of Europol's mandate to cover forgery of money and means of payment, the Presidency confirmed that Coreper would re-examine an outstanding issue relating to the legal definition of the termforgery of money and means of payment".
The Council reached political agreement to freeze the text of the draft Protocol to the Eurodac Convention (adding illegal immigrants to the fingerprinting database for asylum seekers), pending the introduction of a First Pillar instrument after the coming into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam. It was noted that the opinion of the European Parliament on the draft Protocol was still outstanding and that a number of member states still had national Parliamentary scrutiny reservations.
Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in criminal matters
The Presidency noted continuing reserves on issues relating to territorial application and data protection. One member state was urged to join agreement with the others on the "remote approach" to satellite network interceptions of telecommunications within the member states. In the absence of agreement, the Presidency concluded that this issue would go back to Coreper and the relevant working group.
Effect of the transition from the Maastricht to the Amsterdam Treaty on civil law conventions
The Council discussed opinions by the Commission and the Council Legal Services arguing that, after entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, ratification of the Brussels H and Service of Documents Conventions should be suspended as soon as Community instruments to replace them had been tabled. The Commission confirmed its intention to table replacement proposals reflecting exactly the content of the current conventions. The United 25W Kingdom with support from another Member State took the position that suspending ratification as soon as the Commission tabled a proposal, rather than when the instrument was adopted by the Council, risked leaving a legal vacuum.
The Presidency sought, and achieved, political agreement that member states should be free to continue the ratification process until any superseding Community instruments were adopted by the Council.
Revision of the Brussels and Lugano Conventions
The Presidency reported on the current state of play. They hoped to make swift progress on the negotiation and to ensure proper arrangements were made for the Lugano countries in the context of any Community instrument. The United Kingdom took the position that there were strong political and legal arguments for continuing to discuss revision of the Brussels Convention as a convention, and that freezing discussion would send the wrong signal to the non-European States concerned.
Internal Market and Consumer Protection
The Presidency reported on the current position in respect of draft Directives on late payments, electronic signatures, consumer guarantees and distance selling of financial services.
Definition and integration of the Schengen Acquis
Under this agenda heading, I announced the United Kingdom's intentions regarding future participation in the incorporated Schengen provisions, the Free Movement Chapter of the Treaty of Amsterdam, and Justice and Home Affairs matters generally. I made it clear that, while we would maintain our frontier controls in line with the Amsterdam Treaty Protocol, we wished to co-operate in all other Justice and Home Affairs areas which did not conflict with this objective, and notably police, customs and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.
The Commission introduced a paper on harmonised procedures and called for discussion in the coming months. The paper stresses the importance of balancing the efficiency of the asylum process with fairness to the applicant. The Commission will submit formal proposals after further consultations.
The Ocalan case
One member state welcomed the General Affairs Council Declaration of 22 February and said further work was needed to ensure respect for human rights and a fair trial for Ocalan, including the presence of international observers and avoidance of the death penalty. There was no discussion.
Readmission clauses in association agreements
There was a call for the Council to adopt a common position on the inclusion of a standard clause on readmission in all third country agreements. It was agreed that comments on this item would be passed to the General Affairs Council.
Mutual recognition/access to justice
I gave notice of the United Kingdom's intention to table two papers for the Council's attention, one dealing with mutual recognition of court decisions and judgments, the other with access to justice in civil matters.26W
Second Protocol to the Customs Information System Convention
This protocol was signed by members of the Council.
Meeting with the Central and Eastern European countries (CEEs) and Cyprus
In the afternoon, Justice and Home Affairs Ministers met their counterparts from the CEEs and Cyprus. There was an exchange of views between the CEEs and Cyprus, and European Union member states, on the adverse effects of corruption, and on the steps necessary to combat corruption in both the public and private sectors.