EU ministers to discuss far-reaching Justice programme
By Lisbeth Kirk
EU ministers are set to meet in Luxembourg this Monday (25 October) to try and agree a wide-ranging programme of immigration and asylum law.
Justice and Home affairs ministers are set to discuss the so-called Hague Programme, which sets out a five year plan for closer asylum and immigration cooperation.
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On the table are plans to create a common EU border guard, a European public prosecutor, as well as coordinating migration policies.
Under domestic pressure from the opposition Conservative Party, UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has insisted London will not accept a common European Union asylum and immigration system, the Times reported.
Mr Blunkett’s announcement indicates tough negotiations on the deal which is scheduled to be approved by heads of state and government on 5 November.
A Home Office spokesman was quoted by the Telegraph saying: "We won't sign up to an EU processing centre, any common border guard that would involve taking away our own border controls or any new EU consular service".
The UK and Denmark both have legal "opt-outs" from the EU Justice policies written into the existing treaties.
The Hague plan is a follow-up of the program adopted at the Tampere European Council in 1999.
Common application centres
The Hague Programme includes proposals of a common European Asylum system before 2010.
The Council is expected to start discussions in early 2005 on return procedures for migrants, who do not have the right to stay legally in the EU, according to the draft plan.
A new European Refugee Fund will be set up to divide the financial burden of refugees among member states.
Integration of third-country nationals is also part of the plan.
A rapid reaction force of national experts is being considered which could "ultimately be converted into a European Corps of border guards" and should be examined as part of a mid-term review of the Program in 2007.
Minimum standards for national identity cards are also foreseen and a common visa should be established in the long term, according to the plan.
Controversial plans to set up reception camps for refugees outside the EU is not mentioned directly in the draft proposal, but the Commission will be called to submit "a proposal on the establishment of common application centres" in 2005.
The plan sees complete exchange of information between police forces by 2008, which could spark a need for common EU rules on data protection.
Outside the scope of treaties
Parts of the Hague Programme fall outside the scope of the existing EU treaties, but would be part of the EU competencies after the adoption of the European Constitution.
The new Constitution will change the decision-making mechanisms and introduce qualified majority votes in a number of areas related to justice and home affairs.
European framework laws can be introduced in all areas, where the EU has harmonised the legislation, according to the new Constitution.
Minimum rules with regard to the definition of criminal offences shall be adopted by the same procedure as was followed for the adoption of the harmonisation measures.
Swiss accept in Schengen
Monday's meeting of EU ministers will also see Switzerland sign the Schengen agreement and possibly agreement over a proposal to strengthen criminal law against ship pollution.
Three countries, Greece, Cyprus and Malta have been holding up the proposal, which would introduce a ceiling for the maximum fines and set jurisdiction for offences committed outside the territory of a Member State.