HC Deb 15 March 2002 vol 381 cc1260-2W
Mr. Connarty

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the outcome was of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Brussels on 28 February; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [40653]

Angela Eagle

I represented the United Kingdom (UK) at the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Brussels on 28 February 2002.

International Co-operation of the European Union against organised crime (an open debate):

The Council held an open debate on the international co-operation of the European Union against organised crime. The debate focused on the need for enhanced external action, using the range of tools available including funding programmes and agreements based on Article 38 of the Treaty on European Union.

A points:

The A points were approved as in document PTS A 8 (6495/02) (a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House). These included adoption of the Council Decision setting up Eurojust and adoption of implementing rules under the Eurodac Regulation (2725/2000/EC).

Draft Framework Decision on the execution in the European Union of orders freezing property or evidence:

A general approach was approved on a Presidency compromise text, subject to six Parliamentary scrutiny reserves (Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy and the UK), consideration of the opinion which the European Parliament delivered in September 2001 and re-consultation of the European Parliament on the revised text. Two amendments were agreed at the Council itself: (a) to include the language on fundamental rights which is used in Article 1(3) of the European Arrest Warrant text; and (b) the drafting of a further ground for refusal in Article 6 relating to the ne bis in idem principle. I will provide the European Scrutiny Committee with the consolidated English text resulting from the Council when it is issued. I will also write to the Chairman of the Committee about the term "general approach".

Relations with the United States of America (USA):

The Council endorsed a two-stage approach to drawing up an agreement with the USA on judicial co-operation in criminal matters, in accordance with the conclusions of the special JHA Council on 20 September 2001. The first stage will consist of continuing informal exploratory talks with the United States, and, in parallel, work within the Council on the scope and principles of an agreement or agreement. After this, a formal negotiating mandate would be adopted, if possible at the JHA Council on 25 April 2002. There was general agreement in the Council that particular attention would need to be given to human rights safeguards in relation to issues such as the death penalty and special courts and to data protection. There was also general agreement on the need for clarity about the areas in which an European Union (EU)/United States (US) agreement could add value to existing bilateral arrangements.

Green Paper on criminal law protection of the financial interests of the Community and the establishment of a European Prosecutor: presentation by the Commission:

Commissioner Schreyer presented the Commission's Green Paper to the Council. In a brief debate which followed, all but one of the speakers questioned the need for a European Public Prosecutor. A number of delegations pointed out that the decision to establish Eurojust had just been adopted and Eurojust should be given the chance to perform the role it had been given in relation to fraud against the Community budget.

Proposal for a comprehensive plan to combat illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings in the European Union:

The Council approved the comprehensive action plan, which is based on the Commission's Communication on illegal immigration.

Report on the introduction of the euro-Police co-operation (information point):

The Council took note of a presentation by the Director of Europol on law enforcement work to protect the euro before and during the changeover period. The Director reported that recorded incidents of counterfeiting were low in number and sophistication.

European Police College (CEPOL)—Provisional management solution:

The Council endorsed a provisional management solution, whereby Denmark will temporarily host the secretariat of CEPOL pending a decision on the location of the permanent secretariat. This will facilitate implementation of this year's annual work programme.

Amendments of the Europol Convention:

There was broad agreement on the principle of amending the Europol Convention to allow Europol staff to participate in joint investigative teams in a support capacity and to authorise Europol to ask Member States to initiate investigations, in accordance with the conclusions of the Tampere European Council. The Article 36 Committee was asked to work on finalising the necessary amendments. Debate focused on the possibility of introducing a simplified procedure for amending the Europol Convention. All delegations agreed on the need for a simplified procedure for amending the Europol Convention, but there was no consensus on the actual mechanism. The Presidency presented three options:

(i) a protocol providing for future amendments to the Convention to be made by a simple decision of the Council;

(ii) a variation of (i) limited to certain less sensitive articles; and

(iii) replacement of the Europol Convention with a Council Decision.

The first option raised constitutional difficulties for a number of Member States, and options (ii) and (iii) attracted most support. I indicated that the UK could accept any of the three options in principle, but we considered that option (iii) was the simplest and that option (ii) might prove difficult in practice. This was referred to the working group for further consideration.

Setting up an Air Marshal system in the European Union:

The Austrian Minister presented a paper describing national experience of air marshals and proposing that the EU should consider such a system. This received a cautious response. Together with a number of other Ministers, I noted that the Transport Council was considering this and other aviation security issues. It was agreed that the issue should be referred back to Coreper to consider whether it should be taken any further in the JHA area.

Any Other Business:

Austria reported that in accordance with Article 2(2) of the Schengen Convention, it intended to re-impose border controls during a visit by the Iranian President on 11–13 March 2002.

Meeting with the candidate countries in the margins of the Council:

Justice and Interior Ministers met with their counterparts from the candidate countries in the margins of the Council. A Joint Declaration on drugs was approved. The Candidate Countries also provided updates on their progress in improving border controls at their external borders.