The Justice and Interior Ministers of the EU Member States meet regularly as the Justice and Home Affairs Council. The JHA Council meets roughly every two months to coordinate Member States' cooperation on judicial, police, asylum and migration issues. The goal set out in the EU Treaty is the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice in Europe, in which individuals' fundamental rights and civil liberties are respected. The JHA Council discusses and adopts further developments in these fields, usually acting on the basis of proposals from the European Commission. Great importance is attached to the Hague Programme, adopted by the European Council in 2004, which sets out the EU's goals in the field of Justice and Home Affairs for the period up to 2010.
Unanimity is required for Council decisions on most issues. However, in some areas (visas, asylum and judicial cooperation in civil matters) a qualified majority is sufficient. The European Parliament is involved in the decision-making process through either the codecision procedure or consultation.
The focus within the police sector is on improving operational police cooperation and the exchange of information on criminal matters. Even now, Europol and Eurojust are promoting the exchange of information between national judicial and police authorities. They help these national authorities coordinate the prevention and investigation of cross-border crime, in particular organized crime and international terrorism. Practical cooperation between investigative agencies will also be improved - for example through the electronic exchange of criminal records between Member States.
In the field of asylum and refugee policy, a common legal framework has been created with respect to the recognition of persons as refugees, the granting of so-called subsidiary protection and the admittance into Member States of persons arriving in the EU as part of an unexpected refugee flow (for example from Kosovo in 1999); this framework incorporates procedural rules, residence requirements and status issues for refugees and asylum seekers.
It is therefore impossible, for example, for an asylum seeker to apply for asylum in more than one Member State either simultaneously or consecutively. The common asylum and refugee policy will also help ensure that an overproportionate number of migrants do not go to the countries whose rules seem particularly favourable.
Common standards and procedures are being drawn up in the field of visa and migration policy and with regard to checks on persons at external EU borders. Biometric passports, visas and residence permits are being introduced as part of these efforts.
The European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX) coordinates cooperation between the border police forces of the Member States and thereby makes a major contribution to protecting our external borders. The European Police College (CEPOL) fosters smooth cooperation between national police training institutes and promotes the training of senior national law enforcement officials.
Considerable progress has already been made on the harmonization of civil law and the mutual recognition and enforcement of court orders. The aim in this field is to answer the hands-on questions posed by citizens and businesses, such as how can I assert my legal claims in other EU countries, what law applies to my contract when it has links to various countries, what law applies when I have a traffic accident in an EU country other than my own, or how can I achieve greater legal certainty with respect to the enforcement of maintenance orders or other matters following divorce?
Europe's citizens expect the European Union to work effectively to guarantee their security whilst safeguarding their fundamental rights and civil liberties. Today, most of the challenges to security within the European Union are international problems. For this reason, the Member States work closely together with each other and with non-EU states in order to counter threats such as organized crime, corruption, terrorism and illegal migration as effectively as possible and to secure the EU's external borders. At EU level, the Justice and Home Affairs Council has responded to this development by agreeing in December 2005 on a Strategy for the External Dimension of the area of Global Freedom, Security and Justice.