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Brussels, 4 December 2013
Justice and Home Affairs Council 5-6 December 2013 in Brussels
European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on 5-6 December 2013. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner and Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.
Main agenda items for the Home Affairs Council:
Main agenda items for the Justice Council:
Home Affairs Council: 5 December
1. Task Force for the Mediterranean
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will report to the Council on the work of the Task Force, proposing actions to increase solidarity and mutual support in view for the Member States to take operational decisions.
Commission's position: A number of measures have been identified in the framework of the Task Force for Lampedusa, led by the European Commission in order to support Mediterranean Member States confronted with increasing migratory and asylum flows and to take measures to better track, identify and rescue migrant boats, avoiding the loss of life at sea. The Task-Force is proposing actions to bolster EU's policies and tools in the short to medium term.
Background: In the aftermath of the Lampedusa tragedy all EU Member States agreed on the need to show solidarity with the Mediterranean countries. Following the JHA Council of 7-8 October 2013, the Task Force on the Mediterranean led by the Commission (DG Home Affairs) was set up and was invited by the European Council on 24-25 October to identify - based on the principles of prevention, protection and solidarity - priority actions for a more efficient use of European policies and tools. The Task Force, that brings together all Member States and relevant agencies met on the 24 of October and the 20 November.
2. Free movement of EU citizens
At the request of the Interior Ministers of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and the United Kingdom, the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council of 7 June 2013 discussed certain concerns expressed by the four Ministers on the right to free movement of citizens and their family members. In response to these concerns, the Commission recalled that existing EU rules include provisions that help to prevent abuses. Vice-President Reding, in a letter of 19 July 2013, asked all 28 Interior Ministers to provide relevant data so that the matter could be discussed again in the Council.
At the JHA Council of 8 October, the Commission recalled that the basic principle of free movement is not up for negotiation, but that the Commission understands that some Member States are experiencing certain fraud and abuse cases (SPEECH/13/789). The Commission explained that EU law allows Member States to effectively respond to these cases of fraud and abuses and proposed a joint EU-Member States Action Plan.
Following the discussions with Ministers, the Commission adopted a Communication on 25 November which outlined five concrete actions to strengthen the right to free movement, while helping Member States to reap the positive benefits it brings (IP/13/1151, MEMO/13/1041).
Speaking ahead of the Council, Vice-President Viviane Reding said: “Free movement is not a one-way street. Free movement entails rights and obligations for EU citizens. While the fundamental right to free movement is not up for negotiation, EU rules lay down conditions and limitations for exercising this right. Abuse weakens free movement. That's why with our proposal for a five point action plan, the Commission is addressing the concerns raised by some Member States. It is important that Member States join the Commission in implementing the five actions we have put forward.”
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its final report "Free movement of EU citizens and their families: Five actions to make difference" to Ministers (following the preliminary report presented at the Home Affairs Council on 8 October).
Commission position: Free movement is one of the most important and most cherished EU rights laid down in the EU Treaties and in the EU's 2004 Free Movement Directive. There is also a strong economic case for free movement: The recent experience of the 2004 and 2007 enlargements has shown that intra-EU mobility has positive effects on European economies and labour markets. For instance, in the space of just 5 years (2004-9), the GDP of EU-15 countries is estimated to have increased by almost 1% as a result of post-enlargement mobility.
Background: The right to free movement is one of the four freedoms already inscribed in the first EU Treaty – a pillar at the very foundation of the European Union. The modalities of free movement were further codified in the EU Free Movement Directive of 2004. The Commission has consistently sought to assist Member States in the implementation of the free movement rules, particularly by issuing (in 2009) specific Guidelines on the Free Movement Directive which provide for example definitions of 'abuse and fraud' and through the Commission’s Communication of 25 November 2013 which further clarifies what safeguard measures are available to Member States to fight potential abuse.
3. Lunch discussion: Schengen governance
What is expected at this Council? The Commission is presenting its fourth biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area covering the period 1 May to 31 October as basis for an exchange of views between the Ministers.
Commission's position: Encourage all Member States to actively participate in the debate on the state of play of the Schengen cooperation.
Background: In September 2011, the Commission made proposals to strengthen the efficiency and legitimacy of the Schengen system (IP/11/1036 and MEMO/11/606). In its Communication 'Schengen governance - strengthening the area without internal border control', the Commission announced its intention to present an overview on the functioning of Schengen to the EU institutions twice a year. These reports provide the basis for a debate in the European Parliament and in the Council and contribute to the strengthening of political guidance and cooperation between the Schengen countries. The first report was adopted on 16 May 2012, the second report on 23 November 2012 and the third on 31 May 2013.
4. Lunch discussion: Post-Visa Liberalisation for the Western Balkans
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present the findings of its fourth report on the Post-Visa Liberalisation Monitoring for the Western Balkans Countries, adopted on 28 November, and discuss with the Ministers the operation of the Western Balkans visa-free regime. The Council is expected to adopt the amendments to the Visa Regulation (Regulation 539/2001), including the suspension mechanism.
Commission's position: Visa liberalisation is one of the greatest achievements in the process of European integration for the Western Balkan countries. It has contributed to strengthening the people to people contacts between the Western Balkans and the EU. The Commission is committed to upholding the visa liberalisation process. The Commission has formulated a set of recommendations to address the push and pull factors of irregular migration.
Background: Several EU Member States have been confronted by a recent surge in asylum applications lodged by Western Balkans citizens.
The fourth post-visa liberalisation report provides an overview of the development of the post-visa liberalisation monitoring mechanism, gives the Commission’s assessment of measures implemented by the Western Balkan countries on the basis of their visa roadmaps, reviews the functioning of the visa-free travel regime, and makes recommendations for reforms to prevent the recurrence of problems that have beset the visa-free travel regime since 2010.
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). The Council is expected to adopt the amendments to the Visa Regulation (Regulation 539/2001), including the suspension mechanism. Once entered into force, 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
5. Fight against terrorism: Foreign fighters and returnees from a counter-terrorism perspective, in particular with regard to Syria
What is expected at this Council? Following exchanges at the March and June Council, the Commission is presenting an analytical document on the major security risks for the EU from foreign fighters, including potential mitigation areas.
Commission's position: The phenomenon of Foreign Fighters is a serious concern for European security. The increasing number of jihadist travelling from Europe to Syria and other hotspots pose a serious problem for both European internal security and to the stability and security of the region. The Commission welcomes the report presented by the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator and the contributions from Europol and Frontex. The Commission, within its competences, will contribute by mobilising all relevant instruments and policies.
Background: The terrorist threat has in part shifted away from organised groups to individuals, including so-called foreign fighters, who are harder to detect, and whose actions are harder to predict. These individuals have the potential to utilise their training, combat experience, knowledge and contacts for terrorist activities inside the EU.
Fighting terrorism and violent extremism is not only a question of security measures. It requires a comprehensive approach and to work with a broad range of partners, including front line professionals. To this end the Commission set up and supports the Radicalisation Awareness Network (for instance IP/13/59 and MEMO/13/40).
6. The future of EU Home Affairs
What is expected at this Council? Member States are expected to discuss the future development of the Justice and Home Affairs area.
Commission's position: Important steps towards an area of Freedom, Security and Justice have been made over the last years (through the implementation of the Stockholm Programme). Building on that, the Commission seeks to establish a strategic vision for the future development of Home Affairs policies taking into account new opportunities and challenges.
Background: The Stockholm Programme, which framed Home Affairs policies since 2010 will expire in 2014. The Commission has launched a debate on the future challenges and priorities to be addressed by these policies in the coming years.
The first discussions with Member States took place at the informal Council on 18 July 2013 and will continue under the Greek Presidency. The European Parliament will also make its views known.
Seminars and hearings are being organised with think-tanks and civil society organisations. Stakeholders and citizens are also invited to share their views and ideas on the DG Home website. A high level conference will be organised on 29 and 30 of January 2014.
The Commission will adopt a Communication on future development of Home Affairs policies in spring 2014, as a basis for conclusions to be adopted by the European Council in June 2014.
7. Freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime in the EU
What is expected at this Council? The Council will confirm that a political agreement was reached with the European Parliament on the Directive on the freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime in the European Union.
Commission's position: The Commission welcomes the Council's confirmation of a political agreement with the Parliament. Confiscation is a strategic priority in the fight against organised crime and needs a European approach.
Background: Every year in Europe, hundreds of billions of euro go straight into the pockets of criminal groups. Despite efforts by law enforcement around Europe, much of the illegal profits remain in the hands of those groups. This makes criminal groups stronger and robs European citizens of tax money which could be invested in for example health care, education or support for victims of crime. Criminal activities are often transnational and criminal profits are increasingly invested outside the country where the crime was committed.
In March 2013, the Commission proposed a Directive to set up a more comprehensive and coherent EU legal framework for the confiscation of profit (assets) from serious and organised criminality. The Directive will simplify existing rules and fill gaps which have benefitted criminals In Europe until now. The Directive will enhance the ability of Member States to confiscate assets that have been transferred to third parties, it will make it easier to confiscate criminal assets even when the suspect has fled and will ensure that competent authorities can temporarily freeze assets that risk disappearing if no action is taken.
8. EU - Azerbaijan Mobility partnership
What is expected at this Council? In the margins of the Council meeting, the EU and Azerbaijan will agree on a new partnership on migration and mobility. The EU-Azerbaijan Mobility partnership will be signed by Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ambassador Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijan, and the Ministers responsible for migration from the eight EU Member States participating in this partnership (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia).
Commission's position: The launch of a Mobility Partnership with Azerbaijan marks an important moment in strengthening of the relations between the EU and Azerbaijan and for increasing the mobility of citizens in a well-managed and secure environment.
Background: Mobility partnerships are flexible and non-legally binding frameworks for well-managed movements of people between the EU and a third country. Their goal is to ensure, through dialogue and practical cooperation, that there is a responsible and joint management of migratory flows that protect the interests of the Union, of its partners and of the migrants themselves.
The Mobility Partnership with Azerbaijan is the sixth of its kind. It adds up to those concluded with the Republic of Moldova and Cape Verde in 2008, Georgia in 2009, Armenia in 2011 and Morocco in 2013.
Justice Council: 6 December
1. EU Data Protection Reform
The European Commission proposed a reform of the EU's data protection rules in January 2012 to make them fit for the 21st century (see IP/12/46 and IP/13/57). 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.
"At the October summit European heads of state and government committed to a “timely” adoption of the modernised data protection legislation. Ministers at the Council should now deliver on this commitment and adopt the EU's data protection reform swiftly. The European Parliament has sent a strong signal by overwhelmingly backing the Commission's proposals. The ball is now in the Council's court. Ministers need to see the wood for the trees and must not get bogged down in details. Otherwise, I wonder how they will be able to face citizens back home, who are calling for stronger and uniform data protection rules in Europe."
What is expected at this Council? Ministers will discuss the current state of play and follow up on the discussions they had in October on the one-stop-shop principle (see SPEECH/13/788).
Commission position: European heads of state and government underlined the importance of a “timely” adoption of the new data protection legislation at a summit on 24 and 25 October 2013. Following the intensive discussions on the ‘one-stop shop’ mechanism at the Justice Council in October, where a general agreement on its principle was reached, a political compromise has not yet been reached under the Lithuanian Presidency – despite intense discussions at expert level. It remains to be seen if the Lithuanian Presidency will be able to forge a compromise at the upcoming meeting. The Commission would like to see Ministers move ahead on this key element of the draft Data Protection Regulation. Work will continue under the forthcoming Greek Presidency that has indicated it will treat the data protection file as one of its main priorities.
Background: The current patchwork of 28 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 rules will remove barriers to market entry and lead to savings of about €2.3 billion per year.
In the first half of 2013, the Irish Presidency carried out three detailed rounds of comprehensive discussions on the first four chapters of the General Data Protection Regulation and also completed the first reading of the Data Protection Directive on Police and Criminal Justice authorities.
Following the extensive discussions at technical level, Ministers expressed their political support for rapid progress at the Informal Justice Council under the Lithuanian Presidency in Vilnius in July. Ministers agreed to the principles of the one-stop shop mechanism at the Justice Council in October
The European Parliament has made good progress in its work on the two draft proposals. On 10 January, the Parliament rapporteurs presented their draft reports (MEMO/13/4). The IMCO, ITRE (MEMO/13/124), EMPL and JURI (MEMO/13/233) Committees have adopted their opinions. The LIBE Committee voted to firmly back the European Commission’s data reform proposals on 22 October 2013 (MEMO/13/923) and conferred a mandate to negotiate with the Council to its Rapporteurs.
2. Recovering cross-border debts
At the moment, it is 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 28 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 2011, the Commission proposed a new Europe-wide account 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 Council is expected to reach a general approach on the proposal.
Commission position: The Commission is grateful to the Presidency for the work carried out. Although the Commission would have liked to see a higher level of ambition on some aspects, it is satisfied that after more than two years of intensive work, this Council should pave the way for adoption of the new European account preservation order. 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) are the backbone of European economies – making 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. On 30 May, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) voted to back the Commission’s proposal (MEMO/13/481). Ministers discussed the proposal at the Justice Council meeting on 6 June 2013.
3. Cross-border insolvency law
Businesses are essential to creating prosperity and jobs, but setting one up – and keeping it going – is tough, especially in today’s economic climate. The Commission, on 12 December 2012, therefore proposed to modernise the current EU rules on cross border insolvency (see IP/12/1354 and SPEECH/12/945). Benefiting from ten years of experience, the new rules will shift focus away from liquidation and develop a new approach to helping businesses overcome financial difficulties, while protecting creditors' right to get their money back.
What is expected at this Council? The Council will hold an orientation debate, with the aim of providing useful guidance from Ministers on key aspects such as jurisdiction and registers to achieve further progress at technical level.
Commission position: The Commission considers the proposal to be especially relevant in the current economic climate and fully supports the suggested guidelines, which should contribute to swift adoption of the proposed Regulation.
Background: Insolvencies are a fact of life in a dynamic, modern economy. Around half of enterprises survive less than five years, and around 200 000 firms go bankrupt in the EU each year. This means that some 600 companies in Europe go bust every day. A quarter of these bankruptcies have a cross-border element. But evidence suggests that failed entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes and are generally more successful the second time around. Up to 18% of all entrepreneurs who go on to be successful have failed in their first venture. It is therefore essential to have modern laws and efficient procedures in place to help businesses, which have sufficient economic substance, overcome financial difficulties and to get a "second chance".
4. Filling the legal gaps for unitary patent protection
The European Commission proposed on 29 July 2013 to complete the legal framework for Europe-wide patent protection by updating EU rules on the jurisdiction of courts and recognition of judgements (the so-called “Brussels I Regulation”). The changes will prepare the way for a specialised European patent court – the Unified Patent Court – to enter into force once ratified, making it easier for companies and inventors to protect their patents (IP/13/750).
What is expected at this Council? The Council is expected to reach a general approach on the proposal.
Commission position: The Commission supports the general approach being put forward to the Council and encourages Member States to finalise negotiations with the European Parliament before the end of the current mandate.
Background: At present, someone seeking to obtain Europe-wide protection for their invention has to validate European patents in all 28 EU Member States. The patent holder may become involved in multiple litigation cases in different countries on the same dispute. But this will change in the near future thanks to the agreement on the unitary patent package. The Unified Patent Court – established under an agreement signed on 19 February 2013 (PRES/13/61) – will simplify procedures and lead to quicker decisions, with just one court case before the specialised court instead of parallel litigation in national courts. The Agreement relies upon the “Brussels I Regulation” (Regulation 1215/2012) to determine international jurisdiction of the Unified Patent Court.
The European Parliament is due to vote on its report in the Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee early next year.
5. Lunch Debate on the proposed establishment of a European Public Prosecutor's Office to protect taxpayers' money
To better protect European taxpayers’ money against fraud, the European Commission proposed on 17 July 2013 to establish a European Public Prosecutor's Office (IP/13/709). The Office’s exclusive task will be to investigate and prosecute and, where relevant, bring to judgment – in the Member States' courts - crimes affecting the EU budget. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will be an independent institution, subject to democratic oversight. Following its proposal, the Commission carried out a thorough analysis of the reasoned opinions received from 14 national parliamentary chambers in 11 Member States on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity. On 27 November, the Commission confirmed that its proposal complies with the subsidiarity principle and that it has decided to maintain the proposal, explaining the reasoning behind this decision.
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present to ministers its Communication analysing national Parliaments' opinions as well as the arguments behind the decision to maintain the proposal. The Commission will reaffirm that while taking into account the opinions received from national Parliaments, protecting the EU budget against fraud can be better achieved at EU level, by reason of its scale and effects. The Commission will also discuss possible next steps with the Justice Ministers.
Commission position: The proposal aims to improve EU-wide prosecution of criminals who defraud EU taxpayers with a European Public Prosecutor's office which is efficient, independent and accountable. The Office has been designed to be fully integrated into national judicial systems. There will be one European Public Prosecutor who will coordinate and at least one European Delegated Prosecutor in each member state. It will be these Delegates who will carry out the investigations and prosecutions in their respective member states, using national staff and applying national law. With its proposal, the Commission delivered on its promise to apply a zero-tolerance policy towards fraud against the EU budget.
Background: The logic of the European Public Prosecutor's Office proposal is simple: If you have a "federal budget" – with money coming from all EU Member States and administered under common rules – then you also need "federal instruments" to protect this budget effectively across the Union. Currently, there is a very uneven level of protection and enforcement across the EU when it comes to tackling EU fraud. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will make sure that every case involving suspected fraud against the EU budget is followed up and completed, so that criminals know they will be prosecuted and brought to justice. This will have a strong deterrent effect.