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Brussels, 26 October 2011
Justice and Home Affairs Council: 27-28 October 2011 in Luxembourg
European Union Justice and Home Affairs Ministers will meet in Luxembourg on 27-28 October 2011. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, and Cecilia Malmström, the EU's Home Affairs Commissioner.
EU Home Affairs Council: 27 October
Main agenda items:
1. Common European Asylum System
What is expected at this Council? Following up on the informal meeting of Sopot in July and the September JHA Council meeting, the Polish Presidency will inform Ministers about progress on the establishment of the Common European Asylum System in 2012.
Commission's position: The Commission welcomes the Presidency' and Member States' efforts. The Commission underlines, however, the importance of making substantive progress to reach the goal of establishing the CEAS. Further work is needed on the different instruments of the asylum package in order to comply with the target set by the European Council.
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. Work has been going on since and the Commission will continue to support the efforts by 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 (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. Asylum and migration in Greece
What is expected at this Council? Ministers will be informed about the results of a mission from the Commission to Greece. The aim of the mission was to evaluate the implementation of the Action Plan of Migration and Asylum and assess whether progress has been made in these areas as well as on Border Management, in particular at Turkey/Greece land border.
Commission's position: The Commission acknowledges the efforts made by Greece, but recalls the need to fully deliver on the implementation of the Action plan, to finalise the reforms and to urgently address the most problematic issues. The humanitarian situation in the Evros region, and, in particular, the conditions under which migrants are being detained, should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Background: Greece is in the process of implementing a wide-ranging reform of its migration management systems, including its management of the external border and its asylum regime.
A number of positive developments can be identified in the last few months in relation to the implementation of the Greek Action Plan concerning asylum policies and legislation. The main issues of concern remain the humanitarian situation in the detention centres in the Evros region and access to the asylum procedure. Also recent data on irregular migration show that the pressure of irregular migration remains extremely high at the Turkey/Greece land border.
The EU has shown solidarity with Greece and will continue to assist and support Greece in order to improve the Greek asylum system, in particular through the European Refugee Fund (ERF) and with the help of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex, notably in the framework of Joint Operation Poseidon Land.
3. Towards easier cross-border travel in the Kaliningrad area
What is expected at this Council? The Council will discuss the Commission's proposal to facilitate border crossing for people in the Kaliningrad area, by considering the entire Kaliningrad region of the Russian federation and certain Polish administrative districts as a border zone.
Commission's position: The situation of the Kaliningrad enclave is a specific issue. The solution proposed by the Commission will facilitate people-to-people contacts and enhance economic cooperation on both sides of the border, without affecting security. The Commission therefore supports the efforts of the Polish Presidency to get the regulation adopted as soon as possible, paving the way for an agreement between Poland and Russia.
Background: The Local Border Traffic Regulation adopted in 2006 (Regulation No 1931/2006), is an exception to the general rules on external border checks laid down in the Schengen Borders Code (Regulation No 562/2006). It allows Member States to negotiate bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries in order to facilitate cross border movements for social, economic and cultural exchange.
Under such an agreement, a special permit can be granted to citizens living in the border areas, enabling them to cross the respective borders very regularly to stay for just a few hours or one or two days at a time.
In July 2011 the Commission proposed to amend EU rules on local border traffic (LBT) in order to include the entire Kaliningrad oblast as well as certain Polish administrative districts in the eligible border area (IP/11/939). Additional border zone residents could therefore travel more easily across the border and within the neighbouring area.
This exceptional extension of the border zone in the Kaliningrad area does not affect the general definition of the border area as intended by the Local Border Traffic Regulation (the 30/50 km zone). Also, all provisions that guarantee for the security of the entire Schengen area remain valid.
4. Cooperation with Eastern Partnership countries
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its Communication on cooperation with countries of the Eastern Partnership in the Justice and Home Affairs area.
Commission's position: The Commission is committed to continue actively the cooperation on well-managed and secure mobility with the Eastern Partners (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine).
Background: On 16 September the Commission adopted, recommendations for negotiating directives for concluding readmission and visa facilitation agreements with Armenia and Azerbaijan and first assessment reports in the context of the visa dialogues with Moldova and Ukraine. The JHA Eastern Partnership package was complemented by the Communication on the Cooperation in the Area of JHA within the Eastern Partnership adopted on 26 September.
The Communication seeks to consolidate the existing framework for dialogue and cooperation, including by identifying the principles for such cooperation. It also proposes orientations for further strengthening cooperation, including work on thematic priorities.
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 (the discussion was postponed from the September agenda due to time constraints). 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. This discussion was postponed from the September agenda due to time constraints.
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 of the key 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).
7. A stronger European response to drugs
The European Commission has given a fresh impetus to anti-drugs policy by announcing an overhaul of the EU rules to fight illicit drugs, particularly new synthetic substances which imitate the effects of dangerous banned drugs. In a Communication adopted on 25 October (IP/11/1236), the Commission said it will propose strong rules to tackle drug trafficking so that smugglers do not go unpunished, legislation to better control new synthetic drugs, and measures to protect human health and reduce demand.
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present the Communication, which sets out an ambitious agenda for legislative and non-legislative initiatives to tackle the main drugs policy challenges in Europe. The Council is also expected to adopt a European pact against synthetic drugs.
Commission position: Member States cannot stop the spread of drugs alone: clampdowns at national level may simply force criminals to move drug production to neighbouring countries or to shift trafficking routes. With the Lisbon Treaty now in place, the EU has new tools to address the drugs scourge. The European pact against synthetic drugs is an important step in the EU's fight against synthetic drugs.
Background: Over the past two years, one new substance has emerged every week in the EU. Drugs are increasingly available over the internet and have rapidly spread in many Member States, which face difficulties in preventing their sale. Over the coming months, the Commission will develop clearer and stronger rules on tackling dangerous new drugs and trafficking – both of illicit drugs and the chemicals used to make them.
EU Justice Council: 28 October
Main agenda items:
1. Common European Sales Law
On 11 October, the Commission proposed an optional Common European Sales Law to help break down barriers to cross-border trade in the Single Market and give consumers more choice and a high level of protection (IP/11/1175). It will facilitate trade by offering a single set of rules for cross-border contracts in all 27 EU countries.
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its proposal to Ministers. The objective is to prepare for a full debate at the December Council meeting, which may also adopt Council Conclusions and a roadmap for taking the proposal forward.
Commission position: The Common European Sales Law breaks down barriers and maximises benefits for consumers and businesses. The proposal aims to facilitate cross-border trade in the Single Market. This is more important than ever in the current economic climate.
Background: Despite the success of the EU's Single Market, barriers to cross-border trade remain. Many of these result from divergent sales laws between the 27 Member States. They make selling abroad complicated and costly, especially for small firms. Meanwhile, consumers in Europe lose out on greater choice and lower prices because fewer firms sell abroad, particularly in smaller national markets.
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). Under the new proposal, suspects will also be able to 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 Polish Presidency will report on the state of play. Work on the proposals is continuing at technical level.
Commission position: Access to a lawyer rights are essential for building confidence in the EU’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 EU. These measures aim to establish clear rights across the EU and safeguard people's fundamental rights to a fair trial and the right to defence.
Background: The Commission has been committed to establishing 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 for fair trial rights. Justice Ministers approved the first such measure – the right to translation and interpretation – in 2010 (see IP/10/1305).
3. Improving victims' rights
Throughout the EU, an estimated 75 million people every year fall victim to crime. Such events can have devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for victims and their families. Whether a person has been mugged or injured during a terrorist attack, all victims should be treated with respect, offered protection and support, and be able to access justice. But current laws across the EU can be patchy, and do not always meet these basic needs.
What is expected at this Council? The Polish Presidency will inform ministers about the progress made at working group level and hold an orientation debate, with a view to a possible agreement on a general approach at the Council meeting scheduled for December.
Commission position: The 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). Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has the explicit competence to legislate on the rights of victims of crime.
Background: The Commission presented its 'victims' package' on 18 May 2011. The package contains a series of measures that address the quality of treatment that victims receive in the aftermath of crime and during the criminal proceedings that follow. These measures aim to ensure that victims receive the same minimum standard of treatment, including non-discriminatory access to justice, in all EU Member States, irrespective of their nationality or country of residence. The 2001 Framework Decision on the standing of victims is both insufficient and poorly implemented and needs replacing with a new Directive which provides much clearer rights, obligations and responsibilities.
4. European judicial training
On 13 September, the Commission adopted a Communication which aims to ensure that half of all legal practitioners in the EU – 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 Council will adopt Council Conclusions on European judicial training. The issue was already discussed by ministers at an informal Council meeting in January where most Member States supported the creation of a common 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 is therefore counting on Member States to endorse the objectives set out in the Communication and to take ownership of their shared responsibility to reach them.
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 of the rules.