MEETING OF THE INTERIOR MINISTERS, HEILIGENDAMM,
Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon John
Reid MP, Secretary of State, Home Office
Sub-Committee F (Home Affairs) of the House
of Lords Select Committee on the European Union have considered
the Conclusions issued by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior
of the meeting of the Interior Ministers of France, Germany, Italy,
Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom at Heiligendamm on 22-23
March 2006. As you will know, your predecessor attended that meeting.
The Committee believe that the matters discussed at this meeting,
and the conclusions reached, raise issues of importance, and they
have decided to conduct an inquiry into these matters.
We fully support the purposes of the meeting:
the promotion of integration, and the fight against terrorism
and organised crime. There are however a number of points which
we would like to examine further. We wonder to what extent the
G6 proposals (such as exchange of best practice in the field of
integration) go beyond current EU policy. To the extent that the
G6 proposals do go further, they may appear to bypass some important
measures currently being negotiated.
We note that the other 19 Member States "will
be fully informed about the proposals of the G6 States and can
take part in their implementation", but we wonder whether
other Member States will be sufficiently involved.
The Conclusions refer to a number of EU bodies
such as FRONTEX and Europol. There are suggestions that they should
have additional duties and priorities. We would be interested
to know to what extent they, and other Member States, were consulted
about this, and whether their existing constitutions allow for
such an expansion of their mandate.
Lastly, we note the conclusion of the ministers
that rapid implementation of the principle of availability should
not depend on the adoption of a third pillar Data Protection Framework
Decision (DPFD). Since the Commission proposal for the DPFD is
already under consideration, we wonder whether it is sensible
for the two proposals to be considered independently.
The Committee would like to invite you, or a
Home Office Minister nominated by you, to write to the Committee
giving the Government's views on the significance of the Heiligendamm
meeting, with particular reference to the points above, and subsequently
to give oral evidence to them. This will be a brief inquiry, and
no general Call for Evidence will be issued. The Clerk to the
Sub-Committee will be in touch with your officials about the timetable.
10 May 2006
Letter from Rt Hon John Reid MP to the
I am writing in response to your letter of 10
May in which you asked me to set out the Government's views on
the significance of the Heiligendamm meeting. As you will know
that meeting was attended by my predecessor so I did not think
it right for me to give oral evidence at this time. But I would
be happy to brief your committee after the next G6 meeting, which
I will be chairing and is provisionally booked for 26-27 October.
It may be helpful if I provide some context
to the Heiligendamm meeting before answering your specific questions.
The G6 (the G5 until the addition of Poland at Heiligendamm) is
an informal grouping of Interior Ministers from six EU Member
States. It meets on an ad hoc basis two or three times a year
in the country holding the rotating chair. The current chair is
Germany and the next one will be the UK.
Informal groupings of Member States such as
the G6 are not unique in the EU; there are a number of such that
meet outside the structures of the EU to discuss issues of mutual
interest. For example, the Schengen Convention had its origin
in an informal grouping of Member States and other current groupings
include the Benelux and Visegrad countries as well as the Salzburg
Group. These are not just regional groupings, for example, the
Prüm group has brought together countries interested in taking
forward the information sharing agenda.
The main aim of the G6 is to discuss issues
of mutual interest in the areas of migration, organised crime
and terrorism with a view to sharing ideas and best practice while
identifying concrete actions that can be taken forward by all
six or any number of them. Recent topics of discussion have included
the integration of migrants and improving the exchange of information.
But as the G6 is made up of EU Member States this a also a useful
forum for discussing whether any of the ideas raised at G6 meetings
might also be explored at EU level, or even be used as the basis
of formal EU proposals. For example, G6 expert discussions on
ID cards helped inform the EU conclusions reached under the UK
Presidency of the EU, and G6 expert views. on the implementation
of the Principle of Availability were helpful in taking forward
discussions in the "Friends of the Presidency" expert
As an informal group, without any decision making
powers or secretariat, the G6 cannot and does not seek to impose
the outcome of its discussions on the rest of the EU. Conclusions
are made public at the end of each meeting to signal the political
commitment of the six to the agreements reached during discussion
but are not binding on anyone, certainly not other Member States
or EU institutions. It is a forum where ideas can be frankly discussed,
relations with important EU peers strengthened and practical co-operation
In preparations for G6 meetings as with any
other informal meetings it is the practice of the Home Office
to consult other government departments and ensure that policy
positions are agreed.
To answer the first of the specific points raised
in your letter, there are times when G6 proposals will go further
than current EU policy. Innovation and informal political discussion
are part of the benefit of small informal groups (such as the
G6). But there is certainly no intention to bypass or undermine
EU measures that are either in place or in the process of being
To the extent that G6 action affects only G6
members there is no need or requirement for other Member States
to be involved. This would be the same for other bi-lateral and
multilateral arrangements between EU Member States. However, by
de-briefing colleagues from other Member States the G6 is open
with non-members and does not preclude their involvement in action
stemming from the G6.
Any G6 suggestions that EU bodies, such as Frontex
and Europol, should be given additional duties are simply suggestions
and reflect ongoing EU level discussions on the future of Europol,
its relationship with other bodies and the sort of methodology
that might be best to help prioritise their work. Any formal changes
to EU bodies would need to go through the normal EU channels.
On the implementation of the Principle of Availability,
the G6 view that work should not be delayed by negotiations on
the Data Protection Framework Decision (DPFD) does not differ
from those of many other Member States. It is also the shared
position of the Home Office and DCA, who have worked closely together
on a range of EU measures to improve information sharing, including
the DPFD. Securing a third pillar framework on data protection
that adds value to existing arrangements remains the aim of both
departments. If there are elements of the Principle of Availability
that are ready to be implemented before negotiations on the DPFD
are complete it is the view of both Home office and DCA that these
should come into effect as and when they are ready. It is of course
the case that existing data protection rules will continue to
apply until the DPFD. negotiations have finished. All Member States
have domestic data protection regimes for law enforcement and
judicial processing that comply, at a minimum, with the Council
of Europe Convention on processing of personal data (the UK, amongst
others, goes further than this and broadly replicates the provisions
of the existing first pillar EU Directive), so a high level of
data protection is already in place.
The Government believes that for the fight against
ever-more sophisticated crime, it is important to ensure any potentially
drawn-out negotiations on the DPFD do not block progress on the
Principle of Availability. However, we are hopeful that this need
not be the case and our aim is to make as rapid progress as possible
on achieving a successful outcome to discussions on the DPFD.
6 June 2006