§ Mr. Straw
I. together with the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), represented the United Kingdom at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 15 and 16 March. The main matters dealt with at the meeting were as follows:
The A points were approved as in document 6943–01 (a copy of which is in the Library), with the exception of item 2, Council Decision updating the Common Consular Instructions. The Government did not vote on those items in which the United Kingdom does not. participate.
Illegal Immigration via the Western Balkans
The Council gave firm support for the United Kingdom, Commission and Italian initiatives. I reported that the United Kingdom was prepared to commit 10 immigration officers for 12 months to work in joint teams supporting Croatian and Bosnian border services, and urged others to provide similar resources. Five member states gave commitments to provide personnel.
Directive and Framework Decision on preventing the facilitation of entry and residence of illegal immigrations
Member states were divided on the level of penalty for facilitating illegal entry into the European Union (EU) and on the scope of an exemption for those acting with humanitarian motives. Although a majority of delegations were willing to accept as a compromise a Presidency proposal for a six year minimum maximum penalty where the offence involved specified aggravating circumstances, others argued for a higher penalty of between eight and 10 years. The Presidency sought, without success, to achieve consensus on an alternative approach involving agreement on a six year penalty by all, with those member states who wished to impose a 10 year penalty making a joint Declaration to do so. There was, however, agreement on making the offence of facilitation as defined in the Directive extraditable. It was also agreed that work should continue on the two draft instruments with a view to reaching political agreement at the May Council.
Schengen Implementation in Nordic Countries
The Mixed Committee noted that evaluations had been completed and border controls between the Nordic states, including Iceland and Norway, and the existing Schengen area would be lifted on 25 March.
Proposal for a Council Directive on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between member states in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof
The Presidency reported positively on progress. Outstanding issues on duration, decision making, access to asylum procedures and solidarity were to be dealt with by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) in time for adoption at the 28–29 May Justice Home Affairs Council.496W
Council Regulation reserving to the Council: implementing powers with regard to certain detailed provisions and practical procedures for examining visa applications. Council Regulation reserving to the Council implementing powers with regard to certain detailed provisions and practical procedures for carrying out local border checks and surveillance
These texts were remitted to COREPER.
Civil crisis management
Over lunch, the Council exchanged views with the High Representative, Javier Solana, as part of the preparations for the Police capabilities commitment conference on 10 May. Ministers stressed the importance of proper training of the police involved.
Fight against drugs through law enforcement
The Council held a public debate focused on the themes of criminal law, practical law enforcement and EU action with the candidate countries.
The Council welcomed the Commission's intention to present a communication on drugs in April. This would include: proposals for evaluating the implementation of the EU Action Plan in 2002 and 2004; a drugs follow-up table; and an assessment of implementation of the joint action on synthetic drugs. It was important to maximise assistance to candidate countries through the Poland and Hungary Aid for Reconstruction of the Economy and Mesures d'Assistance programmes and to pursue early participation in the EU drugs observatory.
The Council discussed harmonisation of legislation on drug trafficking and common penalties. A Commission proposal for a framework decision on harmonising drug trafficking legislation would be published in April.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State drew attention to the priorities set out in the United Kingdom paper: an all encompassing drugs scoreboard; tough penalties to be agreed by the end of 2001; confiscation of convicted drug traffickers' passports and travel banning orders; speeding up the production of supply side indicators; agreement by the end of 2001 to the drug action plans for the candidate countries; and increased co-operation with Turkey.
Crime prevention—towards a European crime prevention policy
Political agreement was reached by unanimity on the draft Council Decision establishing the European Crime Prevention Network and Articles 1 to 4 of the Hippocrates funding programme, subject to consideration of the European Parliament's opinion on both texts which was expected in mid-April. The Presidency's paper on a European Crime Prevention Policy was agreed.
Draft Framework Decision on the protection of the environment through criminal law
The Council discussed handling of the draft framework decision in the light of the Commission's proposal for a directive, which sought to impose an obligation on member states to introduce criminal sanctions for breaches of existing Community environmental legislation. The majority of member states expressed support for the objectives of the draft framework decision. They accepted that consideration would need to be given to the issues raised by the Commission' s proposal but were clear that criminal sanctions were matters for the Third Pillar and argued for a clear declaration to that effect. The Presidency concluded that the Council had reached provisional agreement concerning the objectives and in principle the 497W content of the framework decision, but would instruct officials to examine whether it was necessary to complement the framework decision in the light of the Commission's proposal.
Fight against cybercrime
The Commission presented its Communication on cybercrime. This envisages future legislation proposals to approximate member states' legislation on: child pornography on the internet; computer hacking and virus attacks; racist/xenophobic material on and off the internet; and mutual recognition of pre-trial order in cybercrime investigations.
On 16 March, an informal meeting was held in the margins of the Council with candidate countries, including Turkey, with the aim of strengthening practical co-operation; in particular discussion focused on the fight against organised crime, asylum and illegal immigration. The United Kingdom was represented by officials.