Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


MEETING OF THE INTERIOR MINISTERS, HEILIGENDAMM, MARCH 2006

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 Chairman

  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 group.

  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 improved.

  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 negotiated.

  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



 
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