FECL 57 (March 1999):
On 11-12 February, JHA Ministers held their first informal meeting under the current German Presidency. According to an EU Council press release, the Berlin meeting was intended to "promote an exchange of views" on current JHA issues. Little substantial progress appears to have been made in overcoming a number of points of discord already addressed by the Ministers at their meeting of 3-4 December.
Once again, Minister discussed "burden sharing" between Member States in the event of mass arrivals of refugees. A proposal presented by Germany's Interior Minister, Otto Schily, drew polite but icy reactions from his colleagues. Reporting from the meeting, the Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant (12.2.98) quoted a diplomat commenting on the German plan: "It has not yet gone through the shredder. But it is as good as dead".
The German plan would mean that every EU Member State would, on a voluntary basis, accept an agreed quota of people in need of temporary protection due to a crisis situation somewhere in the world (not asylum seekers). Member States that were unable or unwilling to bear their share of such de facto refugees would have to contribute financially to their reception in other EU countries. Mr Schily's plan avoids the most controversial points of European "solidarity" in this field. For example, it does not establish any criteria on who must contribute financially, how large these contributions must be, and what to do if the EU and UNHCR disagree on the definition of crisis areas. Nonetheless, the plan was all but picked to pieces, among others by French Interior Minister Chevènement.
Clearly, the Dutch initiative which has resulted in the setting up of a High Level Working Group on Asylum and Immigration is considered more inspiring by most Member States. In the meantime, the working group has identified six countries of origin from which most refugees and immigrants come to the EU, namely Morocco, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Albania and its neighbouring region.
The German presidency called on France, Italy and Portugal to ratify the protocol on the privileges and immunities of Europol staff as soon as possible in order to allow Europol to become operational at last. According to the news agency Agence Europe, the ratification of the protocol is posing a problem in Italy, where the draft law put forward by the government in December has met with some reticence among members of parliament.
Bilateral agreements that the Member States are to conclude with a view to extending immunity to national liaison officers are another obstacle to a quick entry into operation of Europol. Still, the most sensitive remaining problem is the French-German row over the nature of the data protection authority to be established under the Convention, the Joint Supervisory Board. Mr Schily said at the end of the meeting, that "good progress" had been made on solving the dispute.
Finally, in faithful continuation of what has become a tradition of JHA Council meetings, the German presidency called for a further extension of the remit of Europol, this time to "environmental crimes"...
New working structures under the Amsterdam Treaty
The German presidency proposes that two coordination bodies be set up under COREPER (the Committee of Permanent Representatives):
Under these two bodies there would be a number of "high level" and "horizontal" groups of officials:
These groups would be assisted by thematic working groups that would deal with specific aspects of judicial and police cooperation.
Ministers discussed the future of Conventions drawn up in the framework of Third Pillar cooperation, after the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty. A legal opinion, issued by the Council's Legal Service, finds that certain Conventions that have been signed but are still awaiting ratification should be cancelled and replaced by Community instruments, i.e. Regulations or Directives. In Berlin, most Ministers voiced scepticism with regard to such a such a solution with respect to signed Conventions. However, the scheme proposed by the Legal Service could apply to a draft Convention which has not yet been finalised and concerns areas to come under the First Pillar after the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty (e.g. the Eurodac Convention).
Ministers discussed the planned special EU Tampere Summit in October, which is to be entirely devoted to the implementation of the Action Plan for an "area of freedom, security and justice". A main aim of the summit is to bring EU policies in the JHA field closer to the European public. Clearly, Ministers are keen to focus on "law and order" issues that are most likely to interest voters at home. Consequently, the British suggested an item on juvenile delinquency. This proposal did not seem to suit the French JHA Ministers who have recently come under fire at home for proposing tough legal and policing measures against young delinquents. French Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou therefore suggested that the Summit rather discuss an item apparently less controversial in France: divorce.
Sources: European report, 13.2.99; Berliner Zeitung, 12.2.99; Agence Europe, 12.2.99; De Volkskrant, 12.2.99; EU press release, 11.2.99; European Voice, 11.2.99, 25.2.99; our own sources.