- Discussions on migration, strengthening the rule of law, hybrid threats and the future of EU internal security
Minister Charlie Flanagan, T.D., represented Ireland at the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings in Helsinki with EU Ministers on the 18th and 19th of July, 2019.
Attending the Council, the Minister said:
I am delighted to attend one of the first Councils hosted by Finland since they have taken over the Presidency of the Council of the EU. The discussions this week have shown that Finland intend to build on the progress made on key topics in recent times such as migration, strengthening the rule of law and mutual cooperation in criminal matters. All of these issues are crucial in shaping the future of the EU.
Minister Flanagan particularly welcomed the discussion on strengthening the rule of law which is a key topic for Member States in terms of building mutual trust in each other’s legal systems. Commenting on the discussion, the Minister said:
The rule of law is the foundation stone on which judicial cooperation between Member States occurs and the independence of the judiciary is a fundamental value if the rule of law is to be maintained. The recent passing of the Judicial Council Bill by the Houses of the Oireachtas is a giant leap in helping to promote excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions. This landmark legislation will allow for the establishment of a Judicial Council which is something that has been discussed for many years and something that will go a long way to preserving public confidence in the judiciary, and in the administration of Justice in Ireland.
Minister Flanagan also participated in a simulated exercise on a hybrid threat attack where Ministers considered how to address national and international implications of a sudden and multi-layered threat. The Finnish presidency organized the exercise to highlight the importance of considering hybrid threats and for preparedness and EU cooperation to protect citizens.
Minister Flanagan particularly welcomed the discussion on the future of justice: cooperation in criminal matters, where the topic of detention and its alternatives was the main theme. Commenting on the discussion, the Minister said:
Identifying and progressing alternative sanctions is a key challenge faced by all Member States and one that Ireland has taken measures to tackle in recent years. The recently published Irish Probation Service Annual Report 2018 shows that 355,404 hours of community service work were carried out around the country by those serving Community Service Orders in 2018. I am strongly in favour of alternative sanctions where appropriate and I valued the opportunity at the JHA Council meeting to engage with my European colleagues and to learn about effective approaches in other Member States.
The Minister welcomed discussions on the future of EU migration and asylum policy which is an ongoing challenge faced by all Member States. The Minister said:
The problems posed by irregular migration has been obvious for many years and it is vital that a comprehensive, collaborate approach is taken to tackle these problems. I welcome the Finnish Presidency’s commitment to progressing this issue. Ireland fully supports the Council’s position and we will remain an active participant in ongoing efforts.
We discussed issues including the need for humanitarian approaches, the need for effective return programmes for ineligible asylum seekers, the need to protect Europe’s external borders to maintain the integrity of Schengen, the need to tackle people smugglers and the need to work in close partnerships with safe countries of origin on migration and other issues. We also discussed the need for more pathways for regular migration.
In the margins of the Council meetings, Minister Flanagan had a bilateral meeting with the Dutch Minister for Legal Protection, Mr. Sander Dekker where they discussed civil law cooperation.