Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report

1  Introduction

The Committee's inquiry

1. On 26 July 2006 we announced our intention to conduct a broad-ranging review of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) issues at the European Union (EU) level and their implications for the UK. On 31 October 2006 we published more detailed terms of reference. We decided to focus particularly on:

a)  Practical co-operation between Member States

b)  Mutual recognition, including the development of minimum standards across the EU

c)  The harmonisation of criminal justice systems

d)  The process of decision-making and whether problems are driven by 'third pillar' procedure

e)  The significance of a trend towards internal agreements between groups of Member States outside the EU framework

f)  Current developments in common border controls and visa arrangements.

The full terms of reference are annexed to this report.

2. During the course of the inquiry we took oral evidence on five occasions and received 22 memoranda. A list of those who gave oral evidence is set out at page 105 below. We also visited the European Parliament in Brussels and the headquarters of Frontex, the new European border control agency, in Warsaw.

3. The evidence in the inquiry was taken before the transfer of certain functions of the Home Office (prisons, probation, sentencing and aspects of criminal justice) to the new Ministry of Justice which came into being on 9 May 2007. Our report therefore deals with JHA issues which fell within the responsibilities of the Home Office prior to that date.

4. We would like to express particular gratitude to our Specialist Adviser, Dr Valsamis Mitsilegas of Queen Mary College, University of London.

Our approach in the inquiry

5. Within a field as broad as "justice and home affairs" there is at any given moment a multitude of policy initiatives proceeding at various rates of progress, and with varying chances of being finally adopted and implemented, through the institutions of the EU and its Member States. In this report we have not attempted a comprehensive survey of these. Instead we have tried simply to take a 'snapshot' of a few significant issues. We are mindful that our colleagues on the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and on Sub-Committees F (Home Affairs) and E (Law and Institutions) of the House of Lords European Union Committee produce regular reports looking in detail at particular EU proposals. We have not sought to duplicate the valuable work done by those committees. (However, we make some comments later in this report on gaps in the overall level of scrutiny given by Westminster to EU issues in the JHA field, and how those gaps might be filled.)

6. What we have aimed to do is to look at selected issues from the perspective of the actual challenges faced by EU countries, particularly those of cross-border crime and border control. We have then attempted to assess the current and future effectiveness of EU action in meeting those challenges. Throughout our evidence sessions, we consistently asked our witnesses "How big is the problem? What's the evidence that action x , y or z is necessary?"

7. One consistent theme emerging from the responses has been that policy-makers often lack sufficient information about the practical problems which action at EU level ought to be aimed at tackling. In our view, policy initiatives at EU level should only be pursued if there is a solid evidence-base that they are likely to make a real practical difference to the effectiveness with which the common challenges facing EU Member States in the JHA field can be tackled. If what is being contemplated is a change to the decision-making processes of the EU itself—such as abandoning the current requirement that decisions on policing, legal migration and judicial co-operation on criminal matters should be made on the basis of unanimity amongst Member States—it is all the more important that a proper case should be made out for the practical benefits to be brought by such changes.

8. Throughout this report, therefore, we have tried to set the current debates about policy and institutional change against the test of problem-based and evidence-based action. However, we recognise also the danger that if action is not taken in certain areas through the central EU institutions, groups of individual Member States may collaborate amongst themselves in ad hoc arrangements, which then become adopted formally by the EU, as is in process of happening with the Prüm Treaty. We recognise that future UK governments may have to weigh the disadvantages of engaging with initiatives they deem to be insufficiently evidence-based against those of being excluded from key negotiations on what may ultimately be adopted as EU policy.

9. In the next section of the report, we provide some information about the prevalence of crime across the EU and about recent migration trends. We then summarise the current and proposed future arrangements for EU decision-making in the JHA field. In the remainder of the report, we consider recent EU policy responses to the challenges posed by crime and migration.

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