HL Deb 19 May 2003 vol 648 cc58-60WA
Lord Donoughue

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held on 8 May and what their stance was on the issues discussed, including their voting record.[HL2952]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin):

I represented the United Kingdom at the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Brussels on 8 May.

The A points were approved as in document PTS A 21 (8922/03) (a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House). This included adoption of the protocol amending the convention on the use of information technology for customs purposes as regards the creation of a customs files identification database (known as FIDE) which Ministers subsequently signed in the margins of the Council.

Ministers discussed the directive on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third-country nationals and stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection with a view to resolving the outstanding reservations. However, one member state in particular maintained reservations on the text, including the definition of a refugee and on the rights and benefits to be accorded to those with subsidiary protection status. The presidency reiterated its intention to seek agreement to the directive at the June JHA Council.

The Council agreed to exclude refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection from the scope of the directive concerning the status of third country nationals who are long-term residents. This followed confirmation by the Commission that it would table by early 2004 a separate proposal for a directive addressing the needs of those groups.

The presidency summarised progress on the follow-up to the Seville European Council in view of the report to be submitted to the Thessaloniki European Council. The Commission reported on the implementation of the Afghan Returns Programme and the feasibility study on the Visa Information System which would be discussed at the June JHA Council. The Commission also confirmed that a communication on international protection regimes would be prepared in time for that meeting. I urged member states to consider future priorities, asylum (including recent UK ideas); reduction in flows of illegal migrants into the EU; more effective cooperation with source countries on returns; and better financing for JHA external action, including proper integration of JHA needs into other EU programmes.

The presidency and Commission reported on the negotiations with Switzerland on participation in the Schengen acquis and asylum measures, noting that they would be remitted to the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) and then discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

The presidency reaffirmed its intention to seek adoption at the June JHA Council of the Council decision authorising signature of the agreements between the EU and USA on extradition and mutual legal assistance, with signature to take place at the EUUS Summit on 25 June. However, it noted that domestic parliamentary scrutiny was ongoing for several member states, including the UK. A number of member states, including the UK, also indicated that they were considering the need to make constitutional statements in accordance with Article 24 TEU. One member state sought further amendments to the Extradition Agreement.

The Council reached a general approach on the framework decision on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to financial penalties. The presidency said that the European Parliament would need to be re-consulted on the text and further discussions were required on the recitals and accompanying certificate. Five member states, including the UK, maintained parliamentary scrutiny reservations.

The Council agreed the appointment of two Europol deputy directors, including a UK candidate.

Under any other business, Ministers also took note of the Commission's proposals for a common position on notifying the Council of Europe of the forthcoming application of the framework decision establishing the European arrest warrant between the member states. The Council received an update on recent discussions in the G8 which had reviewed progress made in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. Finally, the Netherlands drew the Council's attention to its contribution to the discussions on judicial cooperation in the Future of Europe Convention.