Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report

Letter from the Minister of State at the Home Office (Mrs Barbara Roche) to the Chairman of the Committee


I am writing to report the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on 28-29 May 2001. I represented the United Kingdom on 28 May, and the Home Secretary represented the UK on 29 May.

'A' points

The "A" items on the attached list (8944/01 PTS A 27) were adopted, with the exception of points 16, 28, 29, 30 and 34. I am writing separately to the Leaders of the House of Commons and House of Lords reporting and explaining our decision to override the parliamentary scrutiny reserve on some of these items.

Protocol to the 2000 Convention on Mutual assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union

The Council considered the main outstanding political issues: the abolition of the dual criminality requirement in relation to requests for search and seizure; and the provision of banking information. Member States remained divided on abolition of the dual criminality requirement, and Article 2 of the draft protocol was therefore deleted. Agreement was reached in relation to the provision of banking information (Article 5), and Member States lifted their reservations on related provisions (Article 5a, 5x and 5b). The Council reached provisional agreement on the draft protocol, subject to scrutiny reserves from two delegations. The United Kingdom maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reservation.

Council Framework Decision on combating trafficking in human beings

The Council reached provisional agreement on and froze all the articles in the framework decision except for Article 3 (penalties). The United Kingdom retained its parliamentary scrutiny reservation. The Council discussed the scope for developing a horizontal approach to the approximation of penalties. Some Member States proposed an approach whereby the Council would determine the level of seriousness of certain offences, and Member States would then determine the appropriate penalty within their national penalty structure. Some Member States called for a study of national sentencing practice in the Member States. Other Member States emphasised that work on a general approach to penalties should not delay progress on a number of important instruments, including the framework decision on trafficking in human beings. The Council asked COREPER to continue work on the level of sanctions for offences of trafficking in human beings with a view to reaching agreement at the earliest possible opportunity. The Council asked COREPER to look further at developing a general approach to penalties.

Council Regulation on co-operation between the courts of the Member States of the European Union on the taking of evidence in civil and commercial matters

The Council adopted this Regulation.

Council decision on the opening of negotiations within the framework of the Hague Conference on Private International Law for a worldwide Convention on Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgements in Civil and Commercial Matters

The Council agreed a negotiating mandate for the European Commission on the European Community's position in negotiations in the Hague Conference.

Directive on temporary protection in case of mass influx of displaced persons in need of international protection

The Council reached political agreement on the draft directive. A compromise wording was agreed to simplify the article on family reunification (Article 15) and make it clear that family reunification in relation to the extended family was optional. A Council declaration on solidarity between member States in the framework of temporary protection was also agreed. This records that in indicating its reception capacity under Article 25 of the directive, a Member State indicates its willingness and readiness to act accordingly.

At the meeting of the Permanent Representative Committee on 30 May, however, one Member State indicated that it was not in fact able to accept the text agreed at the Council, and withdrew from the political agreement.

Directive on the right to family reunification

The Council discussed fundamental issues including the scope of the family unit for the purposes of reunification, and time limits relating to qualification for the rights and benefits of family reunification. The Council was unable to reach agreement on these issues.

Protection of the euro against counterfeiting

The Council reached provisional agreement on the draft decision on protection of the Euro against counterfeiting. The United Kingdom retained its parliamentary scrutiny reservation. The European Parliament will be reconsulted as a result of the changes to the initial proposal. It was agreed that Article 5 of the draft decision, on the recognition of previous convictions, should be removed from the decision and reformatted as a separate framework decision. The Council also adopted conclusions on Europol's role in protecting the euro, through the exchange of technical information as well as strategic and operational data.

Principles for financing SIS II

The Council considered whether the Schengen Information System II, the planned successor to the current database, should be financed intergovernmentally by contributions from the Member States in accordance with the gross national product scale, or from the budget of the European Community. In the absence of unanimity on the method of funding, the Council concluded that operational expenditure should be charged to the Community budget from 2002 in accordance with Article 41(3) of the Treaty on European Union. The Council also instructed COREPER to ensure the necessary co-ordination within the Council on the various aspects of the development of the SIS II.

Directive on the protection of the Community's financial interests

The Commission presented its proposal to replace the Convention on the protection of the European Communities' financial interests of 26 July 1995 and its associated protocols with a Community directive.

Tampere scoreboard

The Commission presented its biannual update of the scoreboard charting progress on implementation of the Tampere conclusions.

Any other business

Belgium presented a proposal for a Resolution on the creation of national centres and organisations for the flight against the disappearance and sexual exploitation of children, which will be negotiated under the future Belgian Presidency.

Greece announced that it intended to bring forward a legislative proposal to establish a migration observatory, and that this proposal would be a priority of the future Greek Presidency.

The Council confirmed political agreement on authorising the director of Europol to sign agreements with Interpol, Norway and Iceland. The United Kingdom lifted its parliamentary scrutiny reservation, but another Member State subsequently entered a parliamentary reservation, preventing formal adoption. This parliamentary reservation is expected to be removed by 15 June, in time for formal adoption on 21 June at the Culture Council.

Mixed committee with Iceland and Norway

Protocol to the 2000 Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between Member States of the European Union

The Mixed Committee confirmed its agreement to those aspects of the protocol which constitute a development of the Schengen acquis.

Directive defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, movement and residence

Council framework decision on the strengthening of the penal framework to prevent the facilitation of unauthorised entry and residence

The Mixed Committee reached political agreement on these two instruments. The United Kingdom maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reserve, but the Home Secretary stated that we would lift it in time for formal adoption. The framework decision provides that where certain aggravating circumstances apply, the offence of facilitation will be punishable by custodial sentences with a maximum of at least eight years, although to preserve the coherence of national penalty systems, some Member States will apply a maximum of not less than six years provided that it is among the most severe maximum sentences available for crimes of comparable seriousness. A number of Member States including the United Kingdom will make a declaration stating that they will continue to apply a maximum penalty of at least ten years for the offences in question. The directive contains a provision allowing Member States to decide, by applying its national law and practice, not to impose sanctions where the aim of the behaviour is to provide humanitarian assistance to the person concerned.

Council directive supplementing the provisions of Article 26 of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 (carriers liability)

The Council reached political agreement on this directive. The United Kingdom maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reservation, but again stated that it would life it in time for formal adoption.

Illegal immigration via the Western Balkans

The Mixed Committee noted a Presidency progress report on measures to combat illegal immigration via the Western Balkans, including progress on the United Kingdom initiative for stationing immigration experts in the Western Balkans. The Home Secretary urged other Member States to match the commitment which the United Kingdom was making in contributing officers to the joint teams for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

I am writing in similar terms to the Chairman of the Select Committee on the European Union of the House of Lords, and to the Clerks in both the Commons and the Lords.

6 June 2001

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