On 15 July 2015, the Minister for Internal Security, Etienne Schneider, the Minister for Immigration and Asylum, Jean Asselborn, and the Minister for Justice, Félix Braz, presented the priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency in the areas of interior security, migration and justice and fundamental rights to the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) of the European Parliament which met in Brussels.
Internal security: the fight against terrorism is a "strong priority".
The Presidency will endeavour to implement the renewed Internal Security Strategy for the 2015-2020 period, study legislative projects of "prime importance", namely the new regulation on Europol and the possible negotiation of the PNR Directive, and follow a series of measures adopted to fight terrorism, a "number one priority for the Luxembourg Presidency", with a special focus on combating foreign terrorist fighters.
"In this fight, we are forced to acknowledge that we are not yet able to contain the worldwide flow of foreign terrorist fighters to conflict areas", explained Etienne Schneider with regret. For him, it will be necessary "to increase efforts in order to keep this trend in check", as well as deal with "the major challenge of these individuals returning to Europe".
The Presidency will focus on pursuing the implementation of the measures advocated in the declaration of the Special meeting of the European Council of 12 February 2015. "In this field, our Presidency will follow a coherent and global approach between internal and external aspects, focusing particularly on the fight against terrorist financing, radicalisation and the recruitment of terrorists", explained the Minister. For him, several of the EU's measures and projects "are moving in the right direction", for example the creation of Europol's Internet Referral Unit, the strengthening of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) and work on strategic communication via the SSCAT (Sysria Strategic Communications Advisory Team).
The Presidency will ensure that these measures comply fully with human rights, fundamental freedoms and the principle of proportionality. For the Minister, the Schengen acquis "does not constitute an obstacle", but "an unequalled opportunity for reinforcing operational cooperation".
The fight against organised crime constitutes a second priority of the Presidency. It will broach the implementation of the renewed EU Internal Security Strategy, for which it intends to work "as closely as possible" with the Commission, taking account of the contribution of the European Parliament and the involvement of Member States as well as the JHA's specialist agencies.
With regard to legislative projects, Luxembourg will endeavour to complete the dossier concerning the Europol agency during its Presidency and will also attempt to obtain "an equitable compromise with the European Parliament" on the PNR Directive. The Presidency will also endeavour to discuss the exchange of PNR data between EU Member States over the next six months.
For Jean Asselborn, the migration policy "is a major challenge"
Jean Asselborn pointed out to MEPs that the EU's migration policy "is a major challenge". The Presidency will endeavour "to speed up the reform process" and "make headway on a global policy" which is "fair in terms of the efforts supplied" and "fair in terms of community assistance". "We are going to advance head on and in an accelerated manner following a package logic on several different levels: responsibility, solidarity, access routes and international cooperation", explained the Minister.
With regard to saving lives in the Mediterranean, the Minister pointed out that the budget for the Frontex Triton and Poseidon operations has been tripled. For him, the Member States have dispatched "the necessary resources". He said that the successive EUNAVFOR MED phases will be dependent on a mandate from the Security Council and an invitation from the authorities of Tobrouk.
Jean Asselborn then recalled that the European Council of 25 June had reached an agreement to resettle 20,000 refugees. "This figure was reached and even exceeded by the commitments made by the Home Affaires Minsters last week", he was happy to announce. "We have also agreed that experienced Member States and EASO will help Members States which are starting to commit to resettlement", he added.
He also recalled the agreement concluded at the European Council concerning the relocation of 40,000 people from Italy and Greece. "The discussions have not been easy, the migratory pressure is enormous in certain Member States and, in particular, safeguards are being demanded at hotspots with a view to improved identification and systematic finger-printing, and some Member States have to launch a programme to create reception facilities", explained the Minister. The Presidency will "do everything" to arrive at the result demanded at the "Special Meeting" of the Council on 20 July, he announced.
The Presidency will also endeavour to pursue work on fighting traffickers, reinforcing the activities of the Frontex agency, setting up a European programme in the field of returns and a multi-purpose centre in Niger, and identifying safe third countries. The Minister believes that "a person who is considered a citizen of a safe country should benefit from an accelerated process".
In the field of international cooperation, two events have been scheduled: the Valetta Summit on 11 and 12 November, which concerns cooperation with the African Union, and the Ministerial Conference on the Western Balkan route.
Also, the Presidency will endeavour to complete negotiations on the Students and Researchers Directive and on the Commission's proposal concerning asylum applications for unaccompanied minors in the EU.
Finally, a ministerial debate is scheduled for October concerning the effects of the recasting of the Visa Code and the introduction of a touring visa.
Justice and fundamental rights: Félix Braz highlighted the importance of the data protection package
In the field of justice and fundamental rights, the Presidency intends to pursue the process of the EU's adhesion to the European Convention on Human Rights, an objective which, according to Félix Braz, is not called into question.
On the subject of data protection, a package which, according to the Minister, is "more than necessary", the Presidency will endeavour to conclude an agreement with the European Parliament before the end of the year. "Both citizens’ rights and the competitiveness of the European economy need to be protected", he explained.
In terms of the retention of data, Félix Braz highlighted the fact that, since the judgement handed down by the Court of Justice in April 2014 invalidating the Directive on the Retention of data, "very varied situations" exist in the EU. That is why the Presidency will endeavour to initiate a process to study this matter.
Félix Braz also referred to the proposed regulation concerning the creation of a European Public Prosecutor's Office, which is "a key project in the European area of justice". "The negotiations are long and tedious, but they are progressing in the right direction", he explained.
He also highlighted the importance of the Eurojust reform, which has "a specific mandate and a unique role to play in the fight against serious cross-border crime and in the fight against terrorism".
For Félix Braz, the fight against crime should work in accordance with respect for individual freedom and procedural safeguards. The EU already has an initial reference framework with directives concerning the right to information, the right to interpretation and translation, and the right to legal defence. A second series of measures is currently being negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council. For proposed directives concerning the rights of children, legal aid and the presumption of innocence, negotiations are underway between the co-legislators.
Questions from MEPs
In response to the intervention of a MEP about Libya, Jean Asselborn indicated that the objective of a Security Council resolution was not to "bomb boats in Libya" but to be able to neutralise them. "We are not going to send European troops to Libya to prevent migration", he added.
On the subject of the integration of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area, the Minister expressed he was "pessimistic" about the likelihood of reaching an agreement at the Council in the next six months.
On the subject of the return of foreign fighters, Etienne Schneider highlighted the importance of close collaboration with third countries, something which, for him, needs to be improved.
Concerning the response which the hand of justice can bring to radicalisation, Félix Braz announced that a conference will be held in Brussels on 19 October in an attempt to highlight preventive actions in this field. The conclusions will be presented at a "Justice and Home Affairs" Council.