Ireland assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 January 2013. Now, just over half way through that term, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, looks at what has been achieved and what remains to be done in the areas of justice, home affairs and defence.
Minister Shatter said “The first quarter of 2013 has been a busy and productive period in the areas of justice, home affairs, equality and defence. Working closely with Member States in partnership with the Commission and the European Parliament, some notable achievements have already been delivered. The mid-way point in our Presidency is a good time to take stock, review our progress and renew our commitment to deliver on Ireland’s priorities by the end of June”.
A summary of the main achievements in the justice and home affairs areas is included below:
- Enhancing fundamental rights in the EU has been a key focus of Ireland’s Presidency in the area of justice and home affairs. At the Informal meeting of Justice Ministers in Dublin in January, chaired by the Minister, Minister Shatter initiated a debate with his Ministerial colleagues on the issue of tackling hate crime, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism.
- Ireland successfully negotiated in February an agreement with the European Parliament on the European Protection Order, a civil law measure which will ensure that victims of domestic violence and other forms of violence, harassment and intimidation can avail of national protections when they travel to other EU Member States.
- Ministers agreed the implementation date for the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II) in March. The system went live on 9 April, connecting 28 participating States and facilitating for the first time the exchange of biometric data as part of the Schengen alert system.
- Breakthrough was reached with the European Parliament on the final two legislative measures forming part of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The completion of the CEAS will be an important milestone towards ensuring that the Union has a fair and effective system for processing asylum applications that is also robust and not open to abuse.
- In a major address on 22 January at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in the European Parliament, Minister Shatter - the first Chair of the Justice and Home Affairs Council to address this event - stressed the need to take action under the Rule of Law to end intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism.
- Minister Shatter delivered a speech on fundamental rights at the Academy of European Law in Brussels in March, in which he emphasised the foundational nature of human rights in European law. The Irish Presidency will continue to focus on this important topic at a major conference on fundamental rights and promoting the Rule of Law which will take place in Dublin in May.
- Other notable political discussions have also taken place during the first three months of the Irish Presidency, in particular, on issues such as the worsening refugee crisis in Syria, migratory pressures across the Union and the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel region of Africa.
Commenting on the successes of Ireland’s EU Presidency to date, Minister Shatter, said:
“I am very pleased with Ireland’s achievements during the Presidency so far. Through our efforts the rights of victims and asylum seekers have been significantly enhanced. Ireland has also been instrumental in improving law enforcement access to vital data through the implementation of SIS II. In the justice area we are also contributing to the overall Presidency aim of stability, jobs and growth by advancing key legislation on data protection, insolvency, the European account preservation order and the protection of the financial interests of the EU. I am justifiably proud of our achievements.”
The Minister has enjoyed close working relations with both Vice President Viviane Reding (Justice Commissioner) and Cecilia Malmstom (Home Affairs Commissioner) and has had a number of visits to the relevant European Parliament Committees to advance negotiations on key files.
The Minister went on to highlight a number of significant priorities which he aims to advance before the end of Ireland’s Presidency in June. “Data Protection continues to be a key priority of the Irish Presidency. The proposals on Data Protection will not only serve to protect the privacy of all European citizens, but in doing so will increase the confidence and trust consumers have in online transactions and encourage their greater use. Remarkable progress has already been made on this package with the completion of the first technical reading of the lengthy and complex Regulation. Several policy discussions have also taken place at Ministerial level on some of the main issues of political importance. I am confident that we are on track to achieve our aim of agreeing key elements of the Regulation at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in June.”
A summary of the main achievement in the Defence area is included below:
- At the Informal meeting of Ministers in Dublin, which the Minister chaired, a range of issues were discussed including the upcoming European Council on Defence, Mali, the Horn of Africa, Partnerships between the EU and the United Nations and the role of the EU Battlegroups. This meeting was attended by the Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and UN Under-Secretary General in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Herve Ladsous.
- A successful seminar on the topic of Regional Organisations Co-Operation with the UN in the area of Crisis Management, Peace Support and Peace Enforcement Operations was held in Ireland. The outcome of this was to raise the issue of support to the UN from the EU, NATO and the African Union and it has led to a renewed impetus in this area for all relevant stakeholders and continues to be on the agenda of meetings in many different fora.
- Another seminar dealt with the issue of Maritime Security and Surveillance. The outcome was very positive pointing to the need for increased information sharing among member States to deliver effective maritime security in the face on increasing threats both in European waters and in international trade routes. The seminar has given increased the impetus for this important subject and should lead to further discussions at EU and institutional levels.
- Minister Shatter gave a keynote address on the importance of Defence Cooperation to deliver effective military capabilities at the European Defence Agency Annual Conference in Brussels. (March). Ireland, as Presidency, also co-hosted a joint seminar with the EDA in Brussels on Countering Improvised Explosive Devices.
- Minister Shatter opened the first ever seminar in the Defence Sector relating to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) which was held in Citywest in Dublin to coincide with the Irish Presidency in which delegates from 28 countries participated.
Minister Shatter has attended, spoke at and participated in a variety of meetings in the European Parliament and had discussions with rapporteurs of committees charged with the responsibility of negotiating agreements with the EU Council of Ministers on a variety of reforming EU legislative instruments. Minister Shatter looks forward to making progress on existing and new policies in the justice, home affairs and defence areas during the remaining months of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.