COMBATING TERRORISM

- Conclusions of the seminar on 17 February 1995 and continuation of the Ministers' discussion on 26 January 1995

The Council heard a Presidency report on the seminar which took place in Paris on 17 February 1995 as a follow­up to the Ministers' discussion of Islam­inspired terrorism at their informal meeting in Paris on 26 January 1995.

Following the exchange of views on the above, the Council agreed to instruct the competent authorities to take account of today's discussion when drawing up the document on the external and internal threat posed by terrorism to the countries of the European Union, which is to be submitted to the next Justice and Home Affairs Council in June.

EUROPOL CONVENTION

The Council continued its discussions with a view to adopting the EUROPOL Convention at its meeting in June, in accordance with the timetable laid down by the Essen European Council.

The Council expressed satisfaction at this meeting at the substantial progress made on all aspects of EUROPOL since its meeting in December 1994.

Thus the Council was able, in particular, to agree in principle on the main aspects of the architecture of the system and access by Member States to analysis work. The architecture will have three components: a general information system containing information of less than critical sensitivity, files opened for strategic analysis purposes containing highly sensitive information and an index.

The Council was also able to record broad agreement on the fundamental Articles relating to the establishment of the European Police Office, its objective of improving cooperation between the competent authorities of the Member States in preventing and combating terrorism, unlawful drug trafficking and other serious forms of international crime and the duties to be carried out by the Office to that end. The Council also confirmed its agreement to EUROPOL automatically dealing with terrorist activities within two years of the entry into force of the Convention. The Council's agreement also extended to the tasks of the national units - the only liaison bodies - and of the liaison officers to be sent by each national unit to EUROPOL.

In conclusion, the Council confirmed that the discussions could be deemed to be completed - subject to final examination of the entire text of the Convention later - on the provisions (thirteen Articles) on the obligation to provide information, data security, legal capacity, the various units, the Director and staff of EUROPOL, the headquarters agreement, entry into force and accession to the Convention.

On the subject of the right of citizens to be informed of data concerning them held by EUROPOL, the Council examined a Presidency compromise on the coexistence in the Member States of systems based either on direct access or providing for indirect access.

It should be pointed out that a number of important institutional matters have yet to be resolved, such as the role of the European Parliament, the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors.

On completion of the discussion, the Council instructed its preparatory bodies - the K.4 Committee and Steering Group II - to expedite their discussions on issues outstanding with a view to resolving them without delay. It also asked them to finalize the texts on which agreement in principle had been reached, as stated above. It confirmed its resolve to adopt this important Convention by the agreed deadline, i.e. in June.

MINIMUM GUARANTEES FOR ASYLUM PROCEDURES

The Council agreed to the Resolution on minimum guarantees for asylum procedures. This Resolution will be formally adopted, once it has been finalized in a Working Party of Legal/Linguistic Experts, at a forthcoming Council meeting and then forwarded to the European Parliament.

The Resolution lays down principles concerning fair and effective asylum procedure in accordance with the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 New York Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. Within this framework, in order to ensure compliance with the principle of non-refoulement, no expulsion measure may be carried out as long as no decision has been taken on the asylum application.

The Resolution contains provisions on the rights of asylum­seekers during examination, appeal and review procedures. Reference is made, in connection with manifestly unfounded asylum applications, to the Resolution adopted by the Immigration Ministers at their meeting on 30 November and 1 December 1992.

As regards asylum applications at the border, the Resolution lays down that the Member States will adopt administrative measures ensuring that any asylum­seeker arriving at their frontiers is afforded an opportunity to lodge an asylum application.

Additional safeguards are laid down for unaccompanied minors and women.

The Resolution states that Member States will strive to bring their national legislation into line with these principles by 1 January 1996.

BURDEN­SHARING WITH REGARD TO DISPLACED PERSONS

The Council discussed in depth the problems arising in connection with the draft Resolution on burden­sharing with regard to the admission and residence of displaced persons on a temporary basis.

The discussion showed that the Member States were aware that any Member State faced with a massive influx of displaced persons should be able to count on the solidarity of the others.

The discussion centred on two approaches to the possibility of sharing out displaced persons throughout the territory of the Member States of the EU. Member States did not agree on the first approach which would involve laying down precise criteria to be taken into account when sharing out displaced persons. A second approach was therefore suggested. This would involve the political affirmation by the Member States of their willingness to cooperate actively in a spirit of solidarity, should the need arise.

The possibility of supplementing the physical sharing of persons by a financial compensation mechanism was also mooted. In addition, most of the Member States emphasized the need to avoid any forced displacement of persons between Member States.

On completion of the debate, the Council instructed its subordinate bodies to continue their proceedings in the light of Ministers' remarks. The Presidency stated that it might raise this issue again at an informal meeting in April with a view to reaching a solution which complied with the conclusions of the Essen European Council which had asked it "to find as soon as possible an effective arrangement for future sharing of the burden of humanitarian assistance".

CONVENTION ON SIMPLIFIED EXTRADITION PROCEDURE BETWEEN THE MEMBER STATES OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

At this meeting the Council adopted the Act drawing up the Convention on simplified extradition procedure between the Member States of the European Union, after which the Justice Ministers signed the Convention.

This Convention is the first to be adopted in the area of Justice and Home Affairs (Title VI of the EU Treaty). It is in line with the Member States' desire to improve judicial cooperation in criminal matters, with regard both to proceedings and to the execution of sentences. Extradition has a very important part to play in achieving these judicial cooperation objectives.

The Convention is designed to simplify substantially the application between the Member States of the Union of the European Convention on Extradition adopted by the Council of Europe in 1959. The extradition procedure covered by the Convention can be reduced to a few weeks, if not a few days. It is thus a significant measure to protect individuals.

It applies to cases - approximately one third of the total number - in which persons whose extradition is requested consent and the requested State agrees. The consent of the arrested person is given before a competent judicial authority of the requested State in accordance with the national law of that State. The purpose of this procedure is to give the arrested or wanted person sufficient legal guarantees. That person is thus informed of the request relating to him. His consent must be given voluntarily and in full awareness of the consequences. To that end, the arrested person has the right to legal counsel.

The person is surrendered within twenty days of the date on which the extradition decision was notified. After that deadline, if the person is being held, he is released on the territory of the requested State.

The Convention will enter into force ninety days after it has been ratified by all the Member States. It may, however, be applied in advance between those Member States which make a statement to that effect when depositing the instrument of ratification.

Discussions on other extradition procedures are continuing with a view to drawing up another Convention.

RELATIONS WITH THIRD COUNTRIES

The Council agreed on certain procedures for organizing contacts with third countries in the context of the Third Pillar.

Given the numerous requests from third countries, it is important that such contacts be as operational as possible, while ensuring that the time and means required are not excessive. Thus, in addition to the structured dialogue organized with the CCEE, contacts will be held, in accordance with requirements, on three levels:

- by the Presidency acting in principle through the General Secretariat,

- by the Presidency or the Troika, or

- by Ministers.

RACISM AND XENOPHOBIA

The Council adopted the report on racism and xenophobia, which was drawn up under JHA and which, together with the contribution by the Consultative Commission, will be incorporated in the global strategy on the matter to be defined at the European Council in Cannes.

The report surveys situations which could generate racism and xenophobia, e.g. lack of control of migratory flows; it analyses the contribution of police and customs cooperation to combating such phenomena. It also contains a comparative study of Member States' laws which reveals discrepancies and lacunae. Lastly, the report puts forward proposals to improve international cooperation and develop national laws.

Ministers emphasized in particular the importance of the last two areas of action, i.e. the need for greater international cooperation to combat such phenomena and the need for effective national laws to ensure more extensive punitive action.

EXTENSION OF THE BRUSSELS CONVENTION TO FAMILY LAW

The Council was informed of the proceedings which had taken place since its meeting in December 1994 on the extension of the Brussels Convention on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Judgments within the Union to family law. These proceedings centred on defining the scope of this new Convention (the so­called Brussels II Convention) and determining competence in this area: the national legal body which is competent.

In the light of the experts' proceedings, the Council held a policy debate on the problem of

competence in respect of applications for divorce, separation or annulment. It also turned its

mind to whether ancillary proceedings concerning custody of children, exercise of parental authority and visiting rights should be included in the scope of the Convention.

The Council also examined the timescale for finalizing proceedings on the new Convention.

In conclusion, the Council asked its preparatory bodies to submit a draft text, for its meeting in June, on the scope and grounds of competence for the main proceedings referred to above, including all the ancillary proceedings relating to the children.

JUDICIAL PROTECTION OF THE FINANCIAL INTERESTS OF THE COMMUNITIES

The Council held a very wide­ranging discussion on the judicial aspect of combating fraud, in the light of the instructions it had received from the Essen European Council to draw up a legal instrument in the first half of 1995.

The Member States stressed their joint resolve to be more effective in combating this scourge which has tarnished the Union's image in the eyes of its citizens. In view of the urgent need to reach agreement, the Council agreed to draw up a binding legal instrument which would be confined to basic matters in the initial stage. The other problems arising in this area will be examined at a later date when the second instrument is being drawn up.

The first instrument should include a definition of fraud which would be at once precise, broad and common to the Member States' various legislative arrangements.

Most of the delegations were of the opinion that this first instrument should also include detailed provisions on the liability of persons involved, the fittingness of penalties (proportionate and dissuasive, with the possibility of extradition in serious cases) and the competence of courts in the event of transfrontier fraud.

The Council instructed its subordinate bodies to speed up their proceedings on such a first instrument with a view to meeting the deadline laid down by the European Council and, more particularly, to consider the advantages and disadvantages of creating a specific offence, the possibility of including gross negligence as suggested by the Commission and the liability of decision­makers in the case of a firm. Should the discussions not progress sufficiently, the Presidency might organize another ministerial discussion of this issue as early as April.

CONVENTION ON THE CUSTOMS INFORMATION SYSTEM (CIS CONVENTION)

The Council examined the two problems outstanding on the draft Convention concerning the customs information system.

A solution was found to the first one: the Member States were favourably inclined to the early provisional application of the Convention subject to a specific Agreement being drawn up.

Opinions continue to differ, however, on the role of the Court of Justice. Most of the delegations advocated wide­ranging jurisdiction for the Court of Justice to include disputes between Member States and between Member States and the Commission and preliminary rulings on interpretation, while some Member States were either in favour of only limited jurisdiction or opposed to any jurisdiction for the Court of Justice under this Convention.

In conclusion, the Council instructed the Permanent Representatives Committee to consider the outstanding problems further with a view to resolving them as soon as possible.

UNIFORM FORMAT FOR VISAS

The Council agreed to the Regulation laying down a uniform format for visas. This Regulation will be adopted formally once some Member States have withdrawn their linguistic and parliamentary reservations.

The Regulation lays down that visas issued by the Member States will be produced in a uniform format - sticker - and will conform to the common specifications set out in an Annex to the Regulation, concerning, inter alia, security features which render the visa difficult to counterfeit or falsify, the nature and colour of the paper, the parts to be filled out by the issuing authority and the languages to be used.

The uniform format for visas will come into effective use six months after the additional technical specifications to reduce counterfeiting or falsification have been adopted by the Commission with the assent of a committee consisting of representatives of the Member States.

The Council also agreed to discuss a draft Regulation determining the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa when crossing the Member States' external borders at its June meeting.

TRANSMISSION OF LEGAL ACTS

The Council asked its preparatory bodies to complete their proceedings as soon as possible on the draft Convention submitted by the Presidency on the simplification and acceleration of the service of judicial documents in civil matters.

DISQUALIFICATION FROM DRIVING

The Council also instructed its preparatory bodies to speed up their proceedings on the draft Convention on disqualification from driving to enable ministers to conclude it as soon as possible.

The purpose of this Convention is to make the measures suspending driving licences adopted in any Member State in the event of certain serious breaches of the Highway Code applicable in all the Member States.

OTHER DECISIONS IN THE FIELD OF JHA

(Adopted without debate)

EURODAC

The Council decided to extend the study on EURODAC (European Fingerprinting System) users' needs and requirements to the three new Member States, while complying with the working method for the original contract and without delaying the agreed deadlines. The Council also noted that the cost of the entire study, including the additional study, would be borne by the fifteen Member States and would be divided between them in accordance with the GNP scale.

Europol Drugs Unit (EDU)

The Council adopted:

- a joint action on the basis of Article K.3 of the Treaty on European Union concerning the Europol Drugs Unit. This joint action replaces the Copenhagen ministerial agreement of 2 June 1993 on the establishment of the European Drugs Unit. It extends the scope of the EDU to three new areas and includes the three new Member States in the body of the text;

- the first annual report on the activities of the Europol Drugs Unit between 1 January and 31 December 1994;

- the European Drugs Unit work programme (January to June 1995).

The Europol Drugs Unit was set up in The Hague in January 1994 pending the setting up of Europol, as provided for in the Treaty on European Union.

It has been functioning as a non­operational team since that time, responsible for exchanging and analysing information and data on the following once they concern two Member States or more:

- unlawful drug trafficking,

- illicit trafficking of radioactive and nuclear materials (new),

- illegal immigration networks (new),

- illegal trafficking of motor vehicles (new),

the criminal organizations involved therein and associated money laundering.

Combating drugs

The Council adopted an opinion on the Commission communication on a European plan to combat drugs (1995­1999).

To strengthen governmental cooperation within the European Union in combating drug trafficking, the Council drafted certain proposals for inclusion in the European plan to combat drugs.

Organized crime

The Council approved a report on organized crime in the European Union in 1993 drawn up by the ad hoc Working Party on International Organized Crime with the help of a questionnaire sent to all the Member States.

Customs strategy at external frontiers

The Council agreed to the plan concerning the organization of joint surveillance operations at the Union's external frontiers in 1995 so as to make customs cooperation tangible and operational. Sea, air and land measures are included.