Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report


Letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Angela Eagle) to the Chairman of the Committee

JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS COUNCIL 27-28 SEPTEMBER 2001: OUTCOME

I am writing to report the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on 27-28 September. I represented the United Kingdom, together with the Home Secretary.

'A' points

The Council adopted the 'A' items listed in document 12138/01 PTS A5O with the exception of item 1.

'B' points

Combatting terrorism: follow up to the events of 11 September

The Council held a further debate on the fight against terrorism, which focussed on ensuring that the conclusions of the Special JHA Council on 20 September and the JHA aspects of the conclusions of the Special European Council on 21 September are implemented without delay. The Presidency presented an "antiterrorism roadmap" which sets an intensive programme of meetings and deadlines to implement the agreed package, building on the 'Tampere scoreboard' approach. I enclose the preliminary version of the "roadmap" for your information available in French only at this time. COREPER is working on a number of additions to the roadmap.

The October, November and December Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings will each be used to take forward aspects of the package. The Home Secretary emphasised the importance, which the United Kingdom attaches to meeting the agreed deadlines. He also stressed the importance of humanitarian aid to displaced Afghan people in the region. The Commission reported that the Community's humanitarian aid to Afghanistan totalled 52.3 million euros, and further aid to Iran and Pakistan (15 million euros) and TACIS funds for the Central Asian Republics was under consideration.

In response to a request I made at the special JHA Council on 20 September, the Director of Europol was invited to update the Council on progress in implementing the agreed anti-terrorism measures relating to Europol. He reported welcome progress in a number of areas including the establishment of a 24-hour a day crisis centre.

Draft Council Decision setting up Eurojust: articles 1-8

The Council reached provisional agreement on articles 1 to 8 of the decision setting up Eurojust. These articles relate to the composition, purpose and tasks of Eurojust. Provisional agreement remains subject to consideration of the European Parliament's opinion and to a number of Parliamentary Scrutiny Reservation's including the United Kingdom's.

Draft Resolution on the contribution of civil society in finding missing or sexually exploited children

The Council approved a non-binding resolution drawn up by the Belgian Presidency on the role of civil society in finding missing or sexually exploited children. The text envisages the possibility of NGOs running telephone helplines and, where appropriate, assisting law enforcement efforts. It also invites the Commission to carry out a study in this area. I enclose the text of the resolution, and a short note summarising its content.

Draft framework decision on combatting the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography: definitions and offences

The Council discussed the following issues of principle on the scope of offences under the framework decision:

(i) Should the definition of child pornography include images of persons who may appear to be a child but are in reality over the age of 18? A significant majority of Member States took the view that it should.

(ii) Should the definition of child pornography include realistic images where no real person is involved (virtual or manipulated images)? Again, a significant majority believed it should.

(iii) Should coercing a child into prostitution or pornographic performances always be punishable regardless of the child's age? Again, a majority considered that it should. Some Member States saw a case for a distinction in relation to children aged between 16 and 18.

(iv) Should the production, acquisition and possession of pornography be punishable whether or not it is for the purpose of distribution? Once again, a majority considered that it should.

(v) Would an exemption from the obligation to criminalise be appropriate in the case of images of persons over the age of sexual majority where those images were produced and possessed with the agreement of the persons concerned and solely for their private use? There was general agreement that such an exemption would be justified.

The Belgian Presidency will continue work on the framework decision in the light of this debate.

Proposal for a directive on the right to family reunification

The Council discussed scope issues once again, in particular in relation to unmarried partners and minor children. Whilst there were signs of increased flexibility on these issues, there was no clear conclusion to the debate and the directive was referred back to COREPER.

Proposal for a directive on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status

The Council held a general debate on the draft asylum procedures directive on the basis of a Presidency paper focussing on questions such as rules on the admissibility of asylum applications, the number of appeals instances required, deadlines for processing applications, substantive procedural guarantees and the scope of application of the directive. I spoke more generally of the need to establish EU wide minimum standards on asylum and the need for the Council to accelerate its work on the package of asylum proposals put forward by the European Commission. I indicated that the United Kingdom was broadly content with the structure of the Commission's proposal, but suggested that, particularly as the proposal is intended only as a first step, the Council would be able to make quicker progress if some unnecessarily detailed provisions were simplified.

Several Member States argued that the directive should be extended to cover subsidiary protection under the international instruments, in addition to asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention. Another group of Member States could accept this on an optional basis, while others were opposed.

The Presidency concluded that the discussion could provide a basis for reaching agreement on a number of key issues at the JHA Council on 6-7 December.

Security at meetings of the European Council and the events likely to have a comparable impact

The Council discussed follow up to the conclusions of the Special JHA Council of 13 July, with a view to ensuring that key meetings under the Belgian Presidency pass off peacefully.

Europol

(i) List of possible amendments to the Europol Convention

(ii) Council Decision extending Europol's mandate to deal with the serious forms of international crime listed in the Annex to the Europol Convention

The Council agreed a list of areas for work with a view to possible future amendments to the Europol Convention, taking account in particular of priorities identified in the Tampere conclusions.

The Council agreed on the following particular priorities:

— Europol's participation in joint investigative teams;

— Europol's right to request that an investigation be launched;

— extension of Europol's mandate;

— Europol's role in relation to security at European Council meetings;

— improvements in Europol's work file procedures;

— relations with Eurojust;

— democratic, judicial and administrative control of Europol;

— simplification of the procedure for amending the Europol Convention.

The Council also reached provisional agreement, subject to consideration of the European Parliament's opinion and a number of parliamentary scrutiny reservations including the United Kingdom's on the proposal for a decision extending Europol's mandate to all forms of crime listed in the annex to the Europol Convention.

Other business: Presentation by the Netherlands of a proposal for a Council Decision establishing a network of contact points for the pursuit of those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes

The Netherlands presented this new proposal to the Council.

Draft framework decision on trafficking in human beings

The Council considered the issue of penalties for human trafficking, the one issue outstanding following discussions in the JHA Council in May 2001. The Council achieved a compromise on this issue based on a minimum maximum penalty of eight years in cases where aggravating circumstances were present. The provisional agreement on the framework decision is subject to consideration of the European Parliament's opinion and to parliamentary scrutiny reservations from five Member States including the United Kingdom.

Three Member States made a statement recording their opposition to minimum maximum penalties and calling for progress in discussions on a general approach to approximation of penalties.

Meeting with Candidate Countries

Following the Council, Member States and the Commission met with Ministers from the candidate countries to discuss combatting trafficking in human beings. Participants agreed a document setting out 12 principles on fighting human trafficking. I enclose a copy. The Presidency also reported on the measures agreed at the JHA Council on 20 September on combatting terrorism.

I am writing in similar terms to Lord Brabazon.

17 October 2001


 
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