The Minister of the Interior Aleš Hojs and the Minister of Justice Marjan Dikaučič, current Chairs of the EU Home Affairs Council and EU Justice Council respectively, attended the EU-US Justice and Home Affairs ministerial meeting in Washington on 16 December 2021.
The ministerial meeting was also attended by the European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, the Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, a delegation of the General Secretariat of the EU Council, the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Ilkka Salmi, the Executive Director of Europol Catherine de Bolle and the President of Eurojust Ladislav Hamran.The meeting agenda was dedicated to justice and home affairs topics of shared EU and US interest.
"The goal of the meeting with our transatlantic partners is to strengthen the cooperation and the resilience of our societies and so contribute to a higher level of security in the EU and the world. We will reaffirm this commitment in a joint statement," Slovenian Minister of the Interior Aleš Hojs and current Chair of the EU Home Affairs Council said at the start of the meeting. He also used the occasion to confirm that cooperation between Slovenia and the US in the area of home affairs is very successful.
Minister Hojs continued by presenting the key achievements of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU in the area of home affairs, where he particularly highlighted the prevention and investigation of child sexual abuse. In November, Slovenia convened a conference dedicated to this topic, which was attended by EU ministers, ministers of the Western Balkan partner countries and representatives of the United States. They issued a joint statement in which they emphasised the need for preventive action and awareness-raising and expressed political support for the establishment of adequate tools for the detection and investigation of child sexual abuse - one of the most serious crimes, due to the wide-ranging and life-long consequences for its victims. "We believe it is important now to follow-up on the main takeaways of the November conference. We must step up our awareness-raising campaigns regarding the magnitude of child sexual abuse. We must also address the main challenges faced by national investigators to tackle child sexual abuse, namely the volume and access to data, encryption and the use of artificial intelligence to improve existing investigative tools."
The discussion on migration developments, including the fight against migrant smuggling and their instrumentalisation was an important topic on the agenda. Minister Hojs presented the Slovenian Presidency's activities in the framework of the EU's response to the attempts by Belarus to instrumentalise people for political purposes, and went on to say: "We count on the support of our US allies on this issue." The EU is also focusing on the management of the targeted external borders, with strong measures aimed at tackling human smuggling. The large majority of all migrants arriving in the EU are in fact supported by migrant smugglers. In September the Commission presented a renewed EU action plan against migrant smuggling for 2021-2025, which sets out the key pillars and the concrete actions needed to counter and prevent smuggling. Minister Hojs concluded by saying: "We count on the cooperation of the US to make our actions even more effective. In this context, we welcome that the US has expressed interest in participating in the EMPACT Operational Action Plans for 2022 on migrant smuggling and trafficking of human beings."
On the subject of combating terrorism, the minister highlighted the excellent operational cooperation between EU and US Agencies. "As Chair of the Council, I would like to express the EU member states' appreciation for the information the US has been making available on suspected foreign terrorist fighters. I would also like to underline the importance of ensuring Europol's access to this data. Europol brings added value to EU member states’ terrorism investigations." The minister then addressed the situation in Afghanistan and its security implications: "In late August, I chaired a meeting of EU ministers of the interior, where we concluded that we would do our utmost to ensure that the situation in Afghanistan does not lead to new security threats for EU citizens. This has been our concern ever since, and it is the guiding principle of the Counterterrorism Action Plan on Afghanistan prepared by the EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator. This also involves close cooperation with trusted partners such as the United States when it comes to threat assessments and the exchange of information and intelligence."
In the field of justice, Slovenian Minister Dikaučič and American counterparts had a discussion about cybercrime, focusing on the new UN Convention on Cybercrime. The minister stressed the importance of international standards for cooperation with service providers in other jurisdictions, namely the Second Additional Protocol to the Budapest Convention. Minister Dikaučič said: "A new instrument needs to usefully complement and be fully compatible with the existing framework for international cooperation. In terms of content it should focus primarily on substantive and criminal procedural law, and have a strong human rights-based approach." Minister Dikaučič also briefed the US partners on the current state of negotiations on the e-evidence proposals that will determine the internal EU rules. When adopted, the new rules will impact the negotiations on the future EU-US agreement on access to electronic evidence.
The legislative proposal on artificial intelligence, one of the main priorities of Slovenian Presidency was also discussed in the framework of the item on tackling digital challenges. For justice and home affairs, the main points of interest are the use of real-time biometric identification for law enforcement purposes and the concept of high-risk artificial intelligence systems. Minister Dikaučič expressed his hopes that the future EU legislation on artificial intelligence will have a global impact and will contribute to stronger cooperation with the US. He also stressed that the EU legislation needs to strike the adequate balance between efficient use of artificial intelligence and full respect of fundamental rights. He also presented the current state of negotiations on the legislative proposal for a Artificial Intelligence Act and the proposal for a Digital Services Act.
Justice too can play a key role in tackling climate change. The comprehensive enforcement of environmental laws is essential for the protection of the environment. In this respect, effective criminal sanctioning of the damaging behaviours considered as real threats to our environment and our societies is essential. Only a few days ago, the European Commission presented the revised Directive on Environmental Crime with the goal of strengthening the protection of the environment through criminal law. Minister Dikaučič emphasised the importance of transatlantic cooperation in the often complex and cross-border environmental crime investigations: "We believe the EU and the US share a commitment to fight climate change and protect the environment."
The European Commission presented the report on the rule of law in the EU and the progress in digitalisation of justice. Digitalisation can facilitate access to justice, improve its overall efficiency, and ensure the resilience of justice systems while also strengthening their integrity and accountability. This will benefit both citizens and businesses. At the same time, digital technologies may also entail risks for fundamental rights. The Slovenian Presidency's main theme in the field of justice is the protection of the fundamental rights in the light of challenges arising from new technologies and use of the internet. Minister Dikaučič added: "Fundamental rights must be guaranteed at all times, such as the right to a fair trial and the protection of personal data."