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Brussels, 21 September 2011

Justice and Home Affairs Council: 22-23 September 2011 in Brussels

European Union Justice and Home Affairs Ministers will meet in Brussels on 22-23 September 2011. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, and Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.

EU Home Affairs Council: 22 September

Main agenda items:

  • Common European Asylum System

  • PNR Agreement with Australia

  • Schengen Governance

  • Bulgaria and Romania: Accession to Schengen

  • European Agenda for Integration

  • European Terrorist Finance Tracking System

1. Common European Asylum System

What is expected at this Council? The Council will hold a follow-up discussion on the July informal ministerial meeting in Sopot. The Council will continue political discussion on ways to move forward the negotiations on the Common European Asylum System, to be set up by 2012. The discussion might focus on the Union's early warning system and its capacity for dealing with crises and in particular, asylum crises.

Commission's position: The Commission welcomes the Presidency's efforts and Member States' commitment to the establishment of a Common European Asylum System by 2012. The Commission underlines, however, the importance of making substantive progress to reach this goal.

Background: On 24 June, the European Council sent a clear signal calling for an effective, fair and protective Common European Asylum System (CEAS) by 2012. The Commission will continue to support the efforts of the Council and the European Parliament to swiftly reach an agreement on the asylum package as a whole.

For instance, the modified proposals on the Asylum Procedures and Reception Conditions Directives, adopted on 1 June by the Commission (see IP/11/665 and MEMO/11/365), should facilitate the negotiations between the two co-legislators and enable progress on all the remaining instruments of the CEAS.

2. PNR agreement with Australia

What is expected at this Council? The Council is expected to adopt a decision authorising the signature of the PNR agreement between the EU and Australia. The Commission will also brief the Council about the state of play of negotiations on the agreements between the EU and the US, and the EU and Canada.

Commission's position: The Commission believes that by laying down clear rules on the use of PNR data to fight serious crime and terrorism, as well as on data protection, the EU-Australia PNR agreement will benefit passengers and airlines. The Commission hopes that the agreement can be signed by the Council as soon as possible and that this allow for the final conclusion of negotiations with Australia before the end of the year (following a vote in the European Parliament).

Background: Passenger Name Record (PNR) data consists of information provided by passengers and collected by carriers during the reservation and booking of tickets and when checking in on flights.

Current PNR agreements between the EU and the three third countries are provisionally applicable. They require air carriers to make available PNR data about all persons who fly to and from the USA, Canada and Australia to the competent authorities, for the purpose of combating terrorism and transitional serious crime.

In September 2010 (IP/10/1150), the European Commission adopted a package of proposals on the exchange of PNR data with third countries, consisting of an EU external PNR strategy and recommendations for negotiating directives for new PNR agreements with the United States, Australia and Canada.

The negotiations with Australia are now completed. The Commission continues to work with the US and Canadian authorities towards agreements with both countries.

3. Schengen governance

What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its proposals for reinforced Schengen governance which were adopted on 16 September 2011.

Commission's position: Strengthening the Schengen area is vital for the future of Europe. Travelling without passports is a reality for hundreds of thousands people every day. We need to preserve and reinforce this common achievement.

The Commission is convinced that only a coordinated and EU-based Schengen governance will be able to guarantee a consistent approach across all Member States and to allow all European interests to be taken into account.

Background: The Schengen governance package (IP/11/1036 and MEMO/11/606) consists of a Communication ("Schengen governance – strengthening the area without internal border control"), and two legislative proposals: a proposal strengthening the Schengen evaluation and monitoring mechanism; and a proposal amending the Schengen Border Code.

These legislative proposals provide for a stronger, EU-based evaluation and monitoring system to verify and ensure the application of the Schengen rules, and for a more structured European decision-making mechanism that could allow, in truly exceptional situations, for the temporary reintroduction of internal border controls in case of serious threats to public policy or internal security.

The proposals will now be examined by the European Parliament and the Council under the ordinary legislative procedure.

4. Bulgaria and Romania accession to Schengen

What is expected at this Council? The Council is expected to discuss the full application of the Schengen acquis in the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania and their future accession.

Commission's position: The Commission welcomes the efforts of the Polish Presidency to find a solution that increases mutual trust between all Member States. The Commission hopes an agreement can be reached on a clear perspective for the accession of both countries to the Schengen area, following their considerable efforts to fulfil all technical criteria.

Background: The June Council conclusions on completion of the process of evaluation of the state of preparedness of Romania and Bulgaria to implement the Schengen acquis stipulated that the Council should return to the issue as soon as possible, but not later than September 2011.

Schengen evaluations are carried out by Member State experts. Their reports form the basis for the lifting of internal border control. This decision is taken by unanimity in the Council, after consultation of the European Parliament. There is no proposal from the Commission who participates only as an observer in the evaluation.

Schengen evaluations started in 2009 and several on-the-spot visits have taken place since, concerning police cooperation, data protection, visas, sea borders, air borders or land borders. The last visit to the external land borders took place in Bulgaria in March 2011.

5. European Agenda for Integration

What is expected at this Council? The Council will hold a first exchange of views on the European Agenda for Integration. Council conclusions on integration are foreseen for adoption in December 2011.

Commission's position: The Commission will emphasise the need for effective integration measures to fully realise the potential of migration. The Commission will recall the priorities for European support to Member States' actions in order to meet the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Stockholm Programme.

Background: The Commission adopted the 'European Agenda for the Integration of Third Country Nationals' on 20 July 2011 (IP/11/911 and MEMO/11/530). The proposed actions focus on strengthening migrants' participation in the labour market and society, action at local level and the involvement of countries of origin in support of the integration process. The Communication promotes enhanced knowledge exchange and cooperation between the EU institutions, national governments, regional and local authorities, and involving relevant stakeholders at all levels.

6. European Terrorist Finance Tracking System

What is expected at this Council? The Council will hold an orientation debate on the Commission's Communication on the available options for establishing an EU TFTS.

Commission's position: The Communication presents the different options under consideration at this stage without indicating any preferred one. The Commission is looking forward to discussing these options in detail with the Council and the European Parliament before deciding on further steps on the basis of a thorough impact assessment.

Background: The Commission's Communication on TFTS was adopted on 13 July 2011 (IP/11/877). It presents the main options for establishing an EU TFTS, the key functions that will need to be fulfilled in any EU TFTS system, and some issues to be taken into consideration, including data protection/fundamental rights aspects, as well as the costs.

On 28 June 2010, the European Union and the United States of America signed the agreement on the processing and transfer of financial messaging data for the purpose of the Terrorist Financing Tracking Programme (EU-US TFTP Agreement). At the same time, the Council of the EU asked the European Commission to propose, by 1 August 2011, "a legal and technical framework for the extraction of data on EU territory". The Commission has since worked on the possible introduction of such a system. The Communication is a first step towards concrete proposals.

Developing an EU TFTS is part of a wider agenda to prevent terrorism and protect European citizens, as identified in the EU Internal Security Strategy presented by the Commission in November 2010 (IP/10/1535 and MEMO/10/598).

EU Justice Council: 23 September

Main agenda items:

  • European Protection Order in criminal matters

  • Fair trial rights: access to a lawyer

  • Recovering cross-border debts

  • European judicial training

1. European Protection Order

The European Protection Order aims to protect people who are at risk of violence, be it physical, sexual or mental. At the moment, a protection order granted in one EU country does not offer protection in another, meaning that potential victims of violence can lose their judicial protection by crossing EU borders.

What is expected at this Council? No discussion is foreseen on this point; the Polish Presidency will simply inform Ministers about the outcome of the trilogue of 20 September.

Commission position: The Commission supports the proposed Directive and its adoption by the Council and Parliament. Protecting victims, wherever they find themselves in the EU, is crucial. Exercising one's freedom of movement should not result in a loss of that protection. In order to ensure that no gaps remain in the protection of victims, it is important that the Regulation on a European protection order in civil matters, presented by the Commission on May 18, is also discussed as a priority and adopted swiftly by co-legislators.

Background: The Justice Council of April 2010 (see MEMO/10/148) discussed a proposal put forward by 12 EU countries for a European Protection Order that would extend judicial protection across the EU for victims of violence or someone under the threat of violence.

On 18 May, the European Commission proposed a package of measures to ensure a minimum level of rights, support and protection for victims across the EU, no matter where they come from or live (IP/11/585). This included a proposal for a Regulation on mutual recognition of civil law protection measures. It will ensure that victims of violence (such as domestic violence) can still rely on restraint or protection orders issued against the perpetrator if they travel or move to another EU country and will complement the protection order in criminal matters.

2. Ensuring fair trial rights in the EU – Access to a lawyer

On 8 June, the Commission adopted a proposal to guarantee the right to speak with a lawyer from the moment a suspect is held by police until the conclusion of proceedings (IP/11/689). Suspects could also talk to a family member or an employer and inform them of their arrest. If they are outside of their country, they would have the right to contact their country’s consulate.

What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its proposal for a directive to ministers.

Commission position: Access to a lawyer rights are essential for building confidence in the European Union’s single area of justice, especially when suspects are arrested as a result of a European Arrest Warrant. This proposal is the third in a series to guarantee minimum rights to a fair trial anywhere in the European Union. These measures aim to establish clear rights across the EU and safeguard people's fundamental rights to a fair trial and the right of defence.

Background: The Commission has been committed to common EU standards in relation to criminal proceedings for many years and has taken a step-by-step approach on EU legislation. These measures will allow the Commission to develop a truly common and ambitious EU framework on the level of protection and fair trial rights. Justice Ministers approved the first such measure – the right to translation and interpretation – at their meeting in October (see IP/10/1305).

3. Recovering cross-border debts

At the moment, it’s up to national law to require a bank to pay the money from a client’s bank account to a creditor. The current situation in the 27 Member States is legally complicated, time consuming and expensive. Around 1 million small businesses face problems with cross-border debts and up to €600 million a year in debt is unnecessarily written off because businesses find it too daunting to pursue expensive, confusing lawsuits in foreign countries. On 25 July, the Commission proposed a new Europe-wide preservation order to ease the recovery of cross-border debts for both citizens and businesses (IP/11/923).

What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its proposal to the Justice ministers.

Commission position: The proposal aims to ease cross-border claims and provide more certainty to creditors in order to recover their debt while strengthening the EU's single market and economic recovery.

Background: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up 99% of businesses in the EU. Around 1 million of these face problems with cross-border debts. Procedures for recovering debts from another country's jurisdiction are complex, multiplying the costs for businesses that wish to trade across EU borders. Typical problems range from differences in national law to the costs of hiring an additional lawyer and translating documents. Individuals face similar difficulties when seeking to get their money back from a rogue trader or maintenance defaulter in another EU country.

4. European judicial training

On 13 September, the Commission adopted a Communication which aims to ensure that half of all legal practitioners in the European Union – around 700,000 – participate in some form of European judicial training by 2020 (IP/11/1021). The aim is to equip legal practitioners to apply European law – which is part of their role as judges and lawyers at national level.

What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its Communication to justice ministers. The issue was already discussed by ministers at an informal Council meeting in January where most Member States supported the creation of a genuine judicial culture in the EU.

Commission position: As Member States are primarily responsible for judicial training, the Commission aims to build on existing structures and know-how rather than inventing new ones. The Commission therefore counts on Member States as well as all training providers to help meet the objectives set in the Communication.

Background: The Lisbon Treaty calls on the EU to "support the training of the judiciary and of judicial staff" in both civil and criminal matters. Increasing European judicial training will help to build mutual trust between Europe's different legal systems and improve the implementation of EU legislation. This will benefit people and businesses in Europe, who will be able to rely on swift decisions and a proper respect for the rules.

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