Tue. Jan 31st, 2023

Brussels, 14 October 2022

Home Affairs (14 October)

Schengen Area

Ministers exchanged views on the overall state of the Schengen area, with a particular focus on the management of external borders, in light of the migration situation. They committed to a series of short to medium-term actions in the fields of borders, returns, implementation of IT systems, new legislation, external dimension and secondary movements.

The effective management of our external borders is key to address the migration and security challenges we face in the Schengen area. To achieve this we need to make the most of the opportunities technology offers, we need to fully use the capabilities of Frontex and we need to continue working with our partners and neighbours to reduce irregular border crossings. Today, ministers reiterated their full commitment to build a strong system for border management which can withstand any current and future challenges.

Vít Rakušan, Czech Minister of Interior

The Council approved conclusions on the multiannual strategic policy cycle for European integrated border management. They invite the Commission to devote particular attention to recent phenomena (instrumentalisation of migration, hybrid threats), the emergence of new smuggling methods, pandemics and armed conflicts in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood.

The Council also approved on Thursday, as an item without discussion, a decision to sign an agreement on border management cooperation between Frontex and North Macedonia. This agreement will allow joint operations to be organised and Frontex border management teams to be deployed in North Macedonia, subject to the country’s agreement.

Under any other business, the presidency informed ministers about the enlargement of the Schengen area without internal border controls, in particular the state of play in relation to Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. Without prejudice to the completion of their evaluations in 2011, Bulgaria and Romania have invited, on a voluntary basis, member state and Commission experts to see on the ground how they apply today the Schengen acquis. This exercise is currently ongoing. As regards Croatia, the Council requested in June 2022 the opinion of the European Parliament on a draft Council Decision on the full implementation of the Schengen acquis in Croatia.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine

Ministers discussed the situation of Ukrainian refugees in the EU and internally displaced persons. They assessed contingency planning and efforts to ensure warm, safe and dignified living conditions during winter for Ukrainians, notably in the EU.

In addition, temporary protection, activated in March 2022 for an initial one year period, will be automatically prolonged by two six month periods until March 2024. Ministers were invited by the Commission to allow as much flexibility as possible regarding access to temporary protection rights for Ukrainians returning for short visits to Ukraine, as well as for those who may decide to return to the EU after having left voluntarily.

Ministers also exchanged views on the internal security implications of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, including the increased risks of human trafficking, illicit firearms trafficking and other serious crime. The EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator briefed ministers on the outcome of his visit to Ukraine at the end of September. They agreed to launch a security dialogue with Ukraine to operationalise cooperation with the Ukrainian authorities.

In addition, on Thursday the Council adopted, without discussion, a package of legislative changes to further increase flexibility in the use of cohesion policy funds to help Ukrainian refugees and address the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Asylum and migration

The presidency provided a state of play on asylum and migration files. It presented a concept for a way forward on EU migration solidarity and crisis response, including a legally binding but flexible solidarity mechanism. Member states supported the continuation of work at technical level based on the principles contained in the proposal.

The Presidency also informed ministers of its recent contacts with the European Parliament to initiate, as soon as possible, negotiations on a number of legislative files.

Over lunch, ministers discussed recent evolutions in the Western Balkans migratory route, which has seen a large upsurge in migrant numbers this year. They focused in particular on the visa policy of the Western Balkan region and the impact the non-alignment on visa-free regimes has on the migratory and asylum situation in neighbouring EU countries. They also highlighted key areas for cooperation with the Western Balkan partners, including border management, returns, combatting migrant smuggling and encouraging full alignment with EU visa policy.

Other items

The presidency informed ministers about the latest developments on current legislative proposals.

The Commission and eu-LISA updated ministers on progress made on the implementation of interoperability. The Commission also informed ministers about the first report on the application of the data protection law enforcement directive.

In light of recent developments, the Commission briefed ministers on its work regarding the resilience of critical infrastructure in the EU.

Justice (Thursday 13 October)

Judicial responses and the fight against impunity in Ukraine

Ministers took stock of ongoing work on judicial responses and the fight against impunity regarding crimes committed in connection with Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. This includes support for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes and the other most serious crimes, as well as action to ensure the full implementation of the individual and economic sanctions adopted.

In the last week we have witnessed more horrific and indiscriminate attacks by Russia targeting Ukrainian citizens and civilian infrastructure. These are the latest in a long list of atrocities committed by Russia throughout Ukraine. The EU stands firmly behind the Ukrainian people and will work hand in hand with the Ukrainian authorities and the international community to bring those responsible to justice.

Pavel Blažek, Czech Minister of Justice

The authorities of six EU member states and Ukraine, with the support of Eurojust, have established a joint investigation team or joined it later to facilitate the exchange of information and evidence and support criminal investigations into the crimes committed in Ukraine. The role of Eurojust has also been strengthened to allow the agency to preserve, store and analyse evidence of war crimes. Member states are providing an additional €7 million to support the International Criminal Court, as well as forensic support to Ukraine for the collection of evidence.

To ensure the full implementation of the sanctions adopted, the European Commission has created a ‘freeze and seize taskforce’ to facilitate coordination. On 24 October the Council is expected to adopt a decision extending the list of ‘EU crimes’ to include the violation of EU’s restrictive measures. The Commission will then be able to submit a proposal to harmonise national legislation on this matter.

Judicial training

Ministers of justice exchanged views on judicial training and its impact on access to justice in the context of the rule of law.  In this respect, the importance and role of training in ensuring a better quality of the judiciary and in further reinforcing its independence was emphasised.

Ministers highlighted the existence of national training schools, as well as the participation of judges in European trainings and exchanges. They focused on how to ensure a high level of participation by judges in continuing training and shared existing national measures for monitoring participation in judicial training and assessing its impact and effectiveness.

Ministers also shared whether any links exist at national level between the participation in judicial training and the career development of judges. They stated that they have not experienced tensions between the participation of judges in judicial training and their independence.

Environmental crime

Ministers assessed progress made in discussions on the draft environmental crime directive. During discussions at technical level, experts have made substantial progress towards a legislative text that can be supported by a qualified majority of member states. A large majority could agree to sanction levels for natural persons regarding serious and less serious crimes to be set at five and three years respectively. Other aspects relating to sanctions, including the maximum level of penalties for legal persons, remain open.

The Presidency aims to reach an overall general approach on this text at the December Justice and Home Affairs Council.

European Public Prosecutor’s Office

The Commission and the European Chief Prosecutor  informed ministers about the latest developments in the functioning of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). The EPPO started its operations in June 2021 and in its first year it opened 929 investigations, issued 28 indictments, secured 4 convictions, and was granted freezing orders for €259 million. Within the Council, work is ongoing on the relations of the EPPO with third countries and international organisations and the process to appoint 8 new European Prosecutors who will replace those ceasing their functions in July 2023 will be launched soon.

The European Commission and the European Chief Prosecutor also mentioned the question of possible extension of the mandate of the EPPO to cover the prosecution of violation of EU sanctions. This topic would require in depth consideration.

Fundamental rights in times of crises

Over lunch, ministers exchanged views on upholding fundamental rights in times of crises, in the presence of the director of the Fundamental Rights Agency. They assessed the resilience of the human rights infrastructure (in particular national institutions, the judiciary and civil society) in the face of crises. They also considered what further steps should be taken to increase this resilience.

Other items

Under any other business the Presidency informed ministers of ongoing work on a number of legislative proposals and reported on the workshop on cross-border protection of vulnerable adults which took place on 20 September.

The European Commission presented its legislative package on civil liability in relation to the use of artificial intelligence and liability for defective products. It also informed ministers about the first report on the application of the data protection law enforcement directive, as well as of the latest developments on an EU-US data privacy framework.

The Council also adopted without discussion the items on the lists of legislative and non-legislative A items.

Source – EU Council

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