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Brussels, 24 October 2012
Justice and Home Affairs Council: 25-26 October 2012
European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on 25 and 26 October 2012. The Commission will be represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs and Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.
Main agenda items:
1. Data protection reform
The European Commission proposed a reform of the EU's data protection rules on 25 January (IP/12/46). The package contains a Regulation setting out a general EU framework for data protection and a Directive on protecting personal data processed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences and related judicial activities.
What is expected at this Council? Discussions will focus on three main issues: administrative burden, delegated and implementing acts and flexibility for the public sector, with a view to reaching a partial general approach on these issues at the next Council meeting in December.
Commission position: Following the last informal Justice Council on 24-25 July where data protection was the main agenda item discussed, the Commission wants to maintain the constructive discussions on the reform package to make substantive progress under the Cypriot Presidency so as to meet the objective set by the Irish EU Presidency to achieve a political deal on the reform by mid-2013. The Commission welcomes the commitment shown by both the Cypriot and Irish Presidencies to making progress as well as support from the European Parliament.
Background: The current patchwork of 27 different and often contradictory data protection rules stands in the way of European businesses wanting to operate cross-border. The Commission's proposal for modernised and uniform data protection legislation will remove barriers to market entry and lead to savings of about €2.3 billion per year.
2. Fighting fraud against the EU budget
Misuse of EU funds for criminal purposes puts the EU's objectives of generating jobs and growth and improving living conditions at stake. With public finances under pressure throughout the EU, every euro counts. The European Commission therefore proposed new rules on 11 July 2012 (IP/12/767) to fight fraud against the EU budget by means of criminal law to better safeguard taxpayers' money.
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will make a first presentation of its proposal to Ministers of Justice.
Commission position: The proposal aims to better equip the EU to fight against fraud. A "federal" budget requires one set of harmonised rules to protect it.
Background: The proposed Directive creates a more harmonised framework for prosecuting and punishing crimes involving the EU budget so that criminals no longer exploit differences between national legal systems. The Directive provides for common definitions of offences against the EU budget and for minimum sanctions, including imprisonment in serious cases, and for a common level playing field for periods within which it is possible to investigate and prosecute offences (known as statutes of limitation). This will help to deter fraudsters, provide for more effective legal action at national level and make it easier to recover lost funds.
3. Tackling market abuse and rate-fixing
In recent years financial markets have become increasingly global, giving rise to new trading platforms and technologies. This has unfortunately also led to new possibilities to manipulate these markets. As part of its work to make financial markets more sound and transparent, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Directive (IP/11/1217) on insider dealing and market manipulation (i.e. market abuse). On 25 July, the Commission amended its proposal to include manipulation of benchmarks such as LIBOR and EURIBOR (IP/12/846).
What is expected at this Council? Ministers will hold an orientation debate on the amended proposal.
Commission position: This proposal is an important element in the EU's efforts to strengthen market integrity in the financial sector. The Commission will work hand in hand with the Cypriot Presidency to reach a political agreement during the Presidency.
Background: In the recent LIBOR scandal, serious concerns have been raised about false submissions of banks' estimated interbank lending rates. Any actual or attempted manipulation of such key benchmarks can have a serious impact on market integrity, and could result in significant losses to consumers and investors, or distort the real economy. The European Commission has acted to address this kind of market manipulation, by adopting amendments to the proposal for a Directive on insider dealing and market manipulation, including criminal sanctions.
Home Affairs Issues
1. Bulgaria and Romania accession to Schengen
What is expected at this Council? The Council will discuss the implementation by Bulgaria and Romania of a set of measures aiming to facilitate the outstanding Council decision on lifting internal border control with the two Member States.
Commission's position: The Commission welcomes the efforts of Bulgaria and Romania in implementing the set of measures that were identified at the European Council's request. It supports the work of the Cyprus Presidency towards a solution increasing mutual trust between all Member States and facilitating the future accession of both countries to the Schengen area.
Background: The Council concluded in June 2011 that both Bulgaria and Romania technically fulfil the Schengen requirements. However the necessary unanimity between Member States for lifting controls at internal borders could so far not be reached. At the request of the March 2012 European Council, a set of measures was identified that should contribute to the successful enlargement of the Schengen Area to Bulgaria and Romania. These measures include: - Frontex joint operations to be continued and/or launched at Romania and Bulgaria land borders and major airports; - measures relating to the fight against false documents and identity fraud; - training programmes; - regular and tailored risk analysis.
2. Post visa liberalisation monitoring in Western Balkans
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present the third report on the Post-Visa Liberalisation Monitoring for the Western Balkans, adopted in August 2012, and discuss with the ministers the operation of the Western Balkans visa-free regime.
Commission's position: Visa liberalisation is one of the greatest achievements in the process of European integration for the Western Balkan countries. The Commission is committed to upholding the visa liberalisation process, but underlines that the current situation needs to be addressed adequately and calls for the full support and engagement from the Western Balkan countries.
Background: Over the summer, several EU Member States have been confronted by a seasonal surge of asylum applications lodged by Western Balkans citizens, which came after a period of falling asylum applications in the first four months of this year. The vast majority of these applications for international protection are unfounded.
In its third post-visa liberalisation report, the Commission calls on the Western Balkans to implement the following measures: - Step up operational cooperation and information sharing with Member States and the Commission; - Investigate the facilitators of irregular migration, such as transport companies and travel agencies; - Strengthen exit controls in line with citizens’ fundamental rights. (The Commission also advises Member States to strengthen their entry controls in line with travellers’ fundamental rights); - Organise information campaigns to inform travellers of their rights under the visa-free regime; - Continue to integrate minority populations, particularly the Roma.
Furthermore, in a bid to enhance the post-visa liberalisation monitoring mechanism and prevent the misuse of the visa-free regime, the Commission proposed to establish a safeguard clause in the Visa Regulation (IP/11/629 and MEMO/11/328). Negotiations on that safeguard clause are still ongoing. Once established it would provide a general framework, without being related to specific third countries, and allow, under certain exceptional conditions, for the temporary reintroduction of the visa requirement for citizens of third countries benefiting from a visa waiver with the EU
3. Syria - establishing a Regional Protection Programme
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will report on initiatives to assist Syrian refugees and on the progress made in the preparation of a Regional Protection Programme to help the countries neighbouring Syria (Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan) to cope with the inflows of Syrian refugees, as requested by the Council in July.
Commission's position: The Commission will continue working on the development of a specific Regional Protection Programme in close collaboration with EU States, which, it hopes will show willingness to contribute to financing and implementing its activities.
Background: In response to the Syria crisis, the EU as a whole has mobilised over €230 million so far, more than 53% of the international response. The EU will continue providing humanitarian assistance and support to the hosting communities through durable solution.
During the informal JHA Council in July, ministers discussed specific ways to help the countries neighbouring Syria (Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan) to cope with the inflows of Syrian refugees.
To strengthen international protection in these regions, the Commission has explored the possibility of setting up a tailor made regional protection programme, in cooperation with UNHCR. Taking account of the specificity of the situation, such a programme would contribute to enhancing the reception capacity and improve protection for the refugees, according to international standards.
4. Asylum and migration in Greece
What is expected at this Council? A discussion will take place on the implementation of the Greek Action Plans on Migration Management and Asylum Reform as well as on Border Management and return. Ministers will be informed about the results of a mission by Commissioner Cecilia Malmström to Greece to evaluate improvements on the ground (7-9 October).
Commission's position: The Commission welcomes the progress achieved so far 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, in particular the inadequate level of reception conditions provided to third country nationals detained in the Evros region.
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 areas of asylum, border management and returns. However, a certain number of issues still remain and should be addressed as a matter of urgency, in particular: improvement of the situation in the Evros region and the islands, clear progress on the asylum procedure, actions to ensure sustainability of border controls, increased capacity on return, and better absorption of financial assistance, as well as implications from the Syrian crisis.
The EU has shown solidarity towards Greece and will continue to assist and support them via its financial instruments, to implement the reform of the relevant policies.