Looking forward : the new 18 months programme of the Council for the Freedom Security and justice area

The incoming new “trio” of Council Presidencies (Netherlands, Slovak and Maltese ) has just set the Council’s work programme covering the period January 2016 to June 2017 (doc .12396/15). You can read below the more relevant sections for the Freedom security and justice area related policies by including also the external dimension.
As always, in this kind of “Pravda-like” documents the most interesting messages are hidden behind the diplomatic jargon but, sometimes, even the visible part could be worth reading..

Emilio De Capitani


This document sets out the Council’s work programme as established by the future Netherlands, Slovak and Maltese Presidencies, covering the period January 2016 to June 2017.

Now that the economy is showing signs of recovery, the Union should focus on delivering strong economic growth. At the same time it faces unprecedented challenges notably to its security and as a result of migration. Responding to these challenges requires a fundamental re-think in several policy areas. But the three Presidencies also have the opportunity to develop new policies in areas where action at the European level can bring real added value.

In establishing the Council’s work programme, the three Presidencies have been guided by the priorities of the Strategic Agenda and recent conclusions of the European Council. They have put particular emphasis on the first pillar of the strategic agenda, since inclusive, smart and sustainable growth, jobs and competitiveness remain the top priority over the next eighteen months.

In implementing this programme the three Presidencies will take into account the importance of the principles underpinning better regulation. The Council as a co-legislator has a particular responsibility for ensuring that EU regulation is of the best quality and fully respects the principles of subsidiarity, proportionality, simplicity, transparency, coherence and fundamental rights.

Better regulation will help meet the objectives set out in the Strategic Agenda. And a reduction in regulatory burdens will be an important driver for economic growth and competitiveness. The three Presidencies also note the Commission’s intention to launch a reflection on an increased role for national Parliaments in the preparation of EU decision-making.

This programme is presented in a new format. It is operational, and seeks to provide a framework for organising and programming the work of the Council over the next eighteen months. Its structure – in five pillars – follows that of the Strategic Agenda. It highlights, for each pillar, those key files and issues that the Council will need to address during the period. Equally, it does not aim to be exhaustive; the three Presidencies will ensure that the Council remains flexible and that it can respond to new developments, and that it swiftly addresses challenges that may appear.

The Presidencies acknowledge that many of the issues set out in this programme impact on each other. They will therefore ensure that all issues are handled in a way which takes full account of the wider context and of the potential impact in other sectors. Each section of the programme may involve the work of several Council configurations. The Presidencies will use every opportunity to improve the working methods of the Council in order to allow for better discussions and better results. They will also work closely with the European Parliament given its pivotal role as a co-legislator together with the Council.

Consistency of priorities across policies and institutions is crucial. The Presidencies have thus had consultations with the President of the European Council, and have ensured that this work programme reflects the Commission’s annual work programme for 2016. The Trio programme will also serve as a guide for the three Presidencies in their cooperation with other institutions on annual and multiannual programming.


  1. A Union of freedom, security and justice

 The area of freedom, security and justice will be developed on the basis of the Strategic Guidelines set out by the European Council in June 2014. The focus during the period will be on implementation, in a spirit of mutual trust, and ensuring coherence between all relevant policies and instruments, including the external aspects.

The topics of irregular migration flows and international protection remain high on the agenda and call for solidarity and responsibility from all Member States.

The Presidencies will aim at identifying gaps and explore new ways of addressing them.

Particular attention will be devoted to the “smart borders” package and the implementation of the actions identified in the Commission’s Communication on a European Agenda on migration of May 2015 and in the June and October 2015 EC conclusions, including work on the future development of the Common European Asylum System, efforts on relocation and resettlement, return and readmission, border management, stepping up the fight against human smuggling, and taking forward work in relation to legal migration.

Furthermore, the three Presidencies will work to ensure a better link between migration, security and external policy. The three Presidencies aim to make progress in the on-going legislative work concerning new management of external borders and the new Visa code.

In the field of security, further to the Commission’s Communication on a European Agenda on Security, the implementation of the Renewed EU Internal Security Strategy, is paramount.

The three Presidencies aim to have a comprehensive and integrated approach to cyber-security and cybercrime, corruption, serious and organized crime and trafficking in human beings, including for labour exploitation. The fight against terrorism remains high on the agenda of the Council.

Concerning the area of justice, the emphasis will be on consolidation and effectiveness of existing instruments in practice. The three presidencies will promote improvement of the quality of legislation, taking into account the needs of citizens, authorities and legal practitioners.

The three Presidencies will focus on progress on procedural rights in criminal proceedings as well as the continued the fight against fraud to the financial interest of the Union, including the work on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

As regards civil justice, work will focus on family law.

The three Presidencies will boost e-justice solutions.

Protection of human rights will be a general objective and the three Presidencies will try to take work forward on the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human rights.
Progress on the Data Protection package will be one of the priorities[1].

This priority area includes the following:

European Agenda on Migration, including:
* the Review of the Blue Card Directive and a new approach to Legal Migration
* Evaluation of and possible amendments to the Dublin Regulation
* work on an EU relocation mechanism
* Further efforts to enhance resettlement opportunities
* Proposals for strengthening the role of the European Asylum Support Office
* Effectiveness of the Schengen area
* Proposal to amend the Asylum Procedure Directive (Directive 2013/32/EU) to strengthen ‘Safe Country of Origin’ provisions
* Work related to irregular immigration, including return and readmission
* Work emanating from the Action Plan on migrant smuggling 
* proposals for enhanced protection schemes in the proximity of the EU
* Migration Action Plan with Turkey
Reinforcement of Frontex, including in the context of discussions over the development of a European Border and Coast Guard System
Smart Borders proposals, including the Entry/Exit system and Registered Traveller Programme
Implementation of the Common European Asylum System, including regulation on the international protection of unaccompanied minors
A simplified Union Visa Code and Touring visa regulations
Visa facilitation and liberalisation agreements
Enlargement of the Schengen area
Europol Regulation
Passenger Name Records directive and agreements
Operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities
Legislative proposal on firearms
Peer evaluation regarding cybercrime

The EU Agenda on Security, including
* Follow-up to the Renewed EU Internal Security Strategy, including upcoming Commission initiatives on the revision of the framework decision on terrorism, improved rules on firearms, extension of ECRIS to third country nationals and fraud on non-cash payments
* Renewed EU strategy on trafficking in human beings
* Reviewing obstacles to criminal investigations on cybercrime, notably on issues of competent jurisdiction and rules on access to evidence and information
* New EU policy cycle for organised and serious international crime
Supporting the establishment of a European Victims’ Rights Network
Data Protection Package
EU-US Data Protection Umbrella Agreement
Eurojust Regulation
European Public Prosecutor’s Office Regulation
Roadmap on strengthening procedural rights for suspects and accused persons in criminal proceedings, including notably the proposals on procedural safeguards for children and legal aid in European arrest warrant proceedings
EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights
Family law: matrimonial property regime and property consequences of registered partnerships
Regulation promoting the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of public documents
Rule of Law dialogue
Revision of the “Brussels II” Regulation on the Jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and matters of parental responsibility
Mutual recognition of confiscation orders

  1. The Union as a strong global actor

The EU’s strategic environment has changed due to globalisation and growing instabilities surrounding the EU, threatening our European values and security. Greater connectivity, competition and complexity in our global environment confront the EU with both challenges and opportunities. The EU will need to address this uncertain outlook, in which threats, challenges and opportunities coexist and EU internal and external security are increasingly intertwined.

In particular, in the EU’s neighbourhood, inherent instability has brought heightened risk.

To the east, disregard for the principles of international law has undermined the European security order and led to geopolitical tension. To the south, conflicts and human rights violations are predominant features, and have created long-lasting security, humanitarian and socio-economic challenges.

Against the background of this volatility in the broader neighbourhood, the credibility of the enlargement process and effective progress of the Western Balkans region towards the EU remains strategically important.

An “arc of instability”, stretching from Eastern Europe to the Sahel, affects the EU’s own security and threatens to undermine EU shared values and interests.

The EU must deal with emerging threats such as hybrid threats, terrorist groups with massive resources at their disposal such as ISIL/Da’esh and cyber-attacks; as well as perennial ones such as proliferation, piracy, extremism and terrorism.

 Greater human mobility has led to challenges from irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling. Universal human rights and democratic values are under attack by hostile ideologies and propaganda.

 Migration will most certainly remain high on the international agenda.

The implementation of The European Agenda on Migration, the European Council Conclusions of April, June and October 2015, the outcome of the Meeting of Heads of State or Government of September 2015, and the outcome of the Valletta-summit of 11-12 November 2015 as well as the High-level Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean/Western Balkans route of 8 October 2015, will be at the core of the Trio agenda with regard to the external aspects of migration.

 The agreed measures on migration will have to be implemented and assessed in 2016 and 2017 as some of them need a medium to long-term approach, particularly those aimed at stemming the flow of irregular migration and on tackling the root causes by reinforcing cooperation with countries of origin and transit in an integrated manner.

 On counter-terrorism the ambitious conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council of February 2015 will need to be further implemented, in particular with regard to the EU’s external counter-terrorism work, including enhanced counter-terrorism political dialogues, the action plans and capacity building projects with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

The EU response will need to include an outward looking and joined-up approach to security and diplomacy. Relevant EU policies and instruments will need to be deployed in a more strategic way, aiming at protecting and  promoting EU values and interests.

In this regard, the forthcoming EU global strategy on foreign and security policy will play a crucial role in defining our political ambitions, objectives and instruments to achieve them. The review of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the mid-term review of European Neighbourhood Instrument will be central to defining a new approach to our neighbourhood.

Differentiation will be key, ensuring that the EU’s approaches take account of partner countries’ specific situations. Effective and coherent application of EU policies relating to external action is essential, working on the basis of a comprehensive approach that links, inter alia, diplomacy, trade, energy, development, migration, human rights, and security and defence.

 This will include the further development of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) as CSDP missions and operations continue to make a significant contribution to international peace and stability. EU civilian and military capabilities need to be strengthened and the CSDP better tailored to present and future challenges, including human rights considerations.

In accordance with the European Council conclusions of June 2015, the EU should further enhance cooperation, including internationally, in the field of security and defence, in close coordination with international parties such as the UN and NATO as well with the European defence industry.

 A facilitating role for the European Defence Agency is foreseen. Increased cooperation with partner organisations, greater complementarity and mutual exchange of information is key, in particular with the UN, the OSCE, NATO and the African Union in areas such as hybrid threats, maritime security, rapid reaction and cyber security.

Contributions by partners to the CSDP will continue to be encouraged. Implementation of capacity building in support of security and development with a flexible geographic scope,  as well as the development of an EU-wide strategic framework for Security Sector Reform, shared by CSDP and development cooperation policy, are also foreseen.

 Beyond the Neighbourhood, bolstering partnerships is key – in particular with likeminded actors, but also with partners of rising global and regional influence, as well as with multilateral organisations and other fora. In order to bring sufficient weight to bear, the EU must be united in defending European values and interests, human rights remaining a core value of the EU that guides and drives actions of the EU, both internal and external.

 The Americas present opportunities that need to be fully tapped. Overall, the EU has much to enable it to engage and influence in a positive way. A close and effective strategic relationship with the United States allows for close cooperation on many foreign and security policy issues. The EU will strive to strengthen mutual cooperation on trade, energy security, CSDP and data protection.

 In Asia there are tensions among regional players jostling for influence. The EU has a genuine strategic interest in promoting stability in Asia and will seek to convey a strong message of its commitment to Asia and its regional integration, including at the 11th ASEM summit to be held in July 2016. The EU will remain engaged with the countries of Central Asia, implementing the EU-Central Asia Strategy reviewed in June 2015.

 In close cooperation with African Countries, the EU will continue to work on the implementation of the EU-Africa Roadmap adopted at the 2014 summit and prepare for the next summit. Continued EU engagement will aim to prevent and address crisis situations, contribute to peace and stability and contain the growing flow of irregular migration and fight terrorism, in close cooperation with the African Union, regional organisations and international partners. The EU will continue to implement the regional strategies and accompanying action plans to contribute to the security and development of the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea and the Horn of Africa regions.

 Adapting EU relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) after 2020 (post-Cotonou) to these new global realities and challenges will be part of these political reflections.

 Global challenges will continue to feature prominently on international agenda in 2016 and 2017. It is the EU’s aim to reach an ambitious and binding climate protection agreement at the UN Framework Climate Change Convention (COP 21) in Paris, which will have to be implemented by both the EU and its partners.

The preparation of a second climate diplomacy action plan will have to be explored in the light of the international implications of the Paris agreement. Regarding the promotion of EU’s energy security it will be important to assess the implementation of the external elements of the Energy Union communication endorsed by the European Council in March 2015, in particular regarding the support of EU’s diversification efforts with Foreign Policy instruments.  

 Development policy and cooperation remain central elements of the EU’s external action. The EU will continue its work to make its development assistance more effective and targeted. In pursuing this, the EU will also strengthen the efforts to link up the development cooperation programmes of the EU and Member States though Joint Programming. The EU and its Member States will also continue its efforts to better link up its external relations tools and instruments in line with the principles of the EU’s comprehensive approach.

 The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed in New York will provide a new global framework for sustainable development efforts. Consequently, the focus of the Trio Programme will be the implementation of this agenda, including on the internal EU implementation in the appropriate fora.

 The EU’s policies will need to be looked upon in line with the new Sustainable Development Goals, through a multi-stakeholder approach. Equally, fostering Policy Coherence for Development remains important to the implementation of the EU’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ambitions. In this context, the reviews of the development instruments as well as the discussions on EU-ACP relations after 2020 (post-Cotonou) are also important. 

 In a context of multiple and protracted crises, with unprecedented numbers of displaced persons, the EU will continue to contribute to the efficient delivery of humanitarian aid to those affected by conflict, instability and natural disasters. The first World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 will create momentum for innovative approaches and reinvigorating the collective responsibility of the international community in this regard.

 The Netherlands, Slovakia and Malta will work together in the Council of the European Union on a shared commitment focusing on the countries with a membership perspective, the Neighbourhood, as well as its adjacent regions, as well as the EU’s strategic partners, in support of the actions of the High Representative and the Commission.

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