Parliamentary Tracker : Notes on the LIBE works (meeting March 22/23) UPDATED

by Beatrice FRAGASSO and Luigi LIMONE (* FREE Group Trainees)

NOTA BENE : THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORDING BUT WEB STREAMING OF THIS MEETING IS ACCESSIBLE ON THE EP WEBSITE  HERE

22 March 2017, (afternoon  15.00 – 18.30)

Point 1) : EU agency for law enforcement training. Presentation of the multi-annual programme by Dr Ferenc Banfi, Executive Director of Cepol.

According to Dr Ferenc Banfi, over the last few years there has been an intense increase in the number of participants in the training programmes organised by Cepol. This rise in participation, together with a multiplication of the training activities, has not undermined the quality of the system. In fact, there has been an overall satisfaction rate of 95%. The activities of Cepol have been quite relevant not only from the quantitative point of view, but also from the qualitative side. Among the innovative solutions proposed by Cepol, one of the most relevant is the European Joint Master Programme 2015-2017. It consists of 13 consortium members under the leadership of the Instituto Superior de Ciências Policiais e Segurança Interna in Lisbon. A stable use of human and financial resources has been reported as well.

The new legal mandate of Cepol is regulated by Regulation (EU) 2015/2219. The regulation has introduced a broader scope for Cepol. More specifically, the agency is given a coordination and implementation role, it is asked to serve a wider target group and to provide capacity building in third countries as well as promoting preparedness of EU officials for their deployment to EU missions. The new regulation has also stimulated broad and comprehensive impact assessment. Cepol’s five-year external evaluation 2011-2015 has concluded that Cepol is effective and very efficient with regard to resource management, but it needs additional staff members.

The multi-annual programme defining Cepol’s strategy for the period 2018-2020 follows international standards and values. It mainly aims at building a joint European law enforcement culture. With this new approach, Cepol does not want to introduce a standardisation of practices, but simply lead to the application of a culture of fundamental values across Europe. Under the strategy for the period 2018-2020, four major objectives have been identified: a) high quality, multidisciplinary, innovative and relevant training and learning options, accessible to its target groups; b) contribution to and encouragement of the development of research relevant for training activities and dissemination of research findings; c) necessity to apply for appropriate resources and to ensure their effective use; d) necessity to be professionally led and managed, in order to ensure good governance in its organisational performance.

MEPs interventions:

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) asked for concrete examples on the quantitative growth of the participation in Cepol. She also raised some questions on the way Cepol is working in the capacity building process in third countries through quality and support of third-country police forces. In her opinion, in order to improve the capacity building of third countries it is fundamental for Cepol to have accurate knowledge about the real situation there.

Roberta Metsola (EPP – Malta) said that the EPP group strongly supported the work of Cepol and especially the strengthening of law enforcement forces. However, she asked whether there existed an equal cooperation between Member States with regard to training activities. She also raised some questions on the cooperation with other law enforcement agencies such as Europol and Eurojust.

Reply by Dr Ferenc Banfi. According to Dr Banfi, in Europe there are countries with less law enforcement community engagement than others and therefore it is obvious that the engagement and contribution cannot be the same from every Member State. In his opinion, cooperation with Europol has been fruitful but it is still not perfect and things need to be improved. However, Europol’s agents have effectively participated in the management of the Master course. He also said that Cepol was able to go ahead thanks to the support of other agencies such as Eurojust, Frontex and the EASO.

With regard to cooperation with third countries, he said that Cepol was actively working in capacity building activities in third countries. However, for this cooperation to be effective more preparedness is needed and therefore coordination should focus on integrated efforts in terms of strategic planning, leadership and command as well as clear communication skills. As regards intelligence gathering, Dr Banfi mentioned the concrete example of the Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) in cooperation with Europol, Eurojust and other agencies, since they represent a really comprehensive tool in the hands of Cepol and other agencies with regard to different topics, such as migration, terrorism and, more in general, internal security.

 

2) Joint debate on the operationalisation of the European Border and Coast Guard – Presentation by the Commission of the first and second progress reports on the operationalisation of the European Border and Coast Guard (Frontex).

According to the Commission, while things are happening very fast in Europe, Frontex is doing its best and it is working hard in order to follow these fast changes. The purpose of the two reports is on the one hand to underline the positive outcomes of Frontex operations and on the other hand to identify the gaps to be overcome in order to make Frontex fully operational. Frontex has already deployed around 1500 board and coast officers for the management of external borders in crucial frontline states, such as Italy, Greece, Hungary, Greece and Bulgaria. What Frontex still needs to do is to fill in the gaps in terms of availability of operational tools and equipment provided by Member States. The agency is in fact still lacking helicopters, vehicles, boats and other technical equipment. The speaker on behalf of the Commission also said that five priorities had been identified by the Council and the Commission for an effective implementation of the agency’s mandate in order to make it fully operational.

– Exchange of views with Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director of Frontex.

According to Fabrice Leggeri, the implementation of the new mandate of Frontex is on the right tracks. Leggeri highlighted some priorities identified by the Council and the Commission, among which the most relevant is to fill in the gaps on return procedures. He also talked about the gaps in terms of technical equipment. On this, he said that the new budget resources would make it possible for the agency to acquire its own technical tools. He also mentioned the success of the joint operations conducted in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Spain and the relevance of a pilot project with Finland. According to him, several other pilot projects are under discussion with voluntary countries, such as France and Latvia. In conclusion, he stated that Frontex should develop new functions and limit its actions not only to border surveillance. A more concerted effort is in fact needed in the fields of search and rescue, law enforcement and drug traffic. Frontex should definitely be assisted in its mission by Member States and cooperation between the Parliament and Frontex should be supported.

MEPs’ interventions:

Péter Niedermüller  (S&D – Hungary) asked for clarifications regarding the fundamental rights approach adopted by Frontex within its activities, as some cases of violence and abuse by Frontex officers had been reported by several NGOs.

Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE – France) asked about the situation regarding cooperation with third countries, with reference to the agreement with Libya in particular. She also noted that  protection of fundamental rights during the activities managed by Frontex was reported to be weak in some cases, especially with regard to the situation of migrants in Greek islands following the entering into force of the EU-Turkey agreement.

According to Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany), Member States seem they are not so fast in implementing new laws, that they are not ready to act at the very moment when the law is signed. As a result, even if a new mandate of Frontex is into force, the problem is that Member States are not able to implement from the first moment.

According to Carlos Coelho (EPP – Portugal), Frontex is failing in terms of information availability and further interventions are needed to make information collection more accurate.

Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA – Netherlands) asked how and to what extent Frontex can play a role in training authorities in Libya and other North African countries. She also raised some concerns on human rights protection for migrants both along the European borders and in third partner countries.

For Sylvie Guillaume (S&D – France), there are shortcomings in the figures provided by Member States concerning the activities on borders supported by Frontex, with regard to the number of returns in particular.

Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL – Italy) mentioned the fact that some people were accusing some NGOs of contributing to the violation of human and fundamental rights during the operations of border control. She underlined the extremely relevant role played by NGOs and their active contribution to the protection of people’s rights as well as the assistance offered to migrants along the borders.

In reply to MEPs’ interventions, Fabrice Leggeri said that the issue of fundamental rights protection is crucial and Frontex is doing its best to respect fundamental rights, since they are part of the EU and the basis of the values promoted by the Treaties. He also highlighted the importance of readmission agreements with third countries for a better management and identification of migrants. In his opinion, return decisions are national decisions made by Member States on their own and Frontex is simply there to assist Member States, monitor on  their operations and ensure that fundamental rights are respected and, among other things, that medical care is provided to returnees.

 

3) Debate on democracy and justice in Romania further to the plenary decision of 1st February 2017 – Exchange of views (see separate draft programme)

OPENING REMARKS by Claude MORAES, Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament.

Claude Moraes (S&D – United Kingdom) introduced the session concerning the situation of democratic principles and respect of the rule of law in Romania, which was asked by some Members of the European Parliament to have some clarifications on the situation of democracy and justice in Romania after the events which had recently taken place in Romania and the subsequent waves of protests against the conservative approach adopted by the Romania government.

Speech by Tudorel Toader, Minister of Justice of Romania.

The Minister talked about the situation of the justice system in Romania with regard to the protection of human rights and freedoms as well as the application of the rule of law. According to the Minister, even though legislation in Romania has been constantly evolving and it has reached an irreversible development, the country is facing several problems today. However, Romania has a supreme court to verify the constitutional nature of the legislation and the rule of law is very well divided and respected today. Among the most urgent issues, he mentioned the need to respect prison conditions for the nearly 27300 prisoners which Romanian prisons are hosting.

Speech by Liviu Avram, Deputy Editor in chief ADEVARUL.

Liviu Avram talked about the emergency ordinance which was passed under fast-track, illegitimate procedures a couple of months ago. This ordinance was followed by waves of protests across the country. This has shed light on the crisis of the rule of law which Romania is currently facing. The decree was in fact undermining fundamentals rights and Romanian people soon understood they were being manipulated, that their fundamental rights were undermined. Therefore, they went out into the streets to protest against this abuse of power. Romania is currently lacking proper institutional protection. The only thing to do was therefore to go into the streets, protest and re-establish the rights through public demonstrations against the government.

Liviu Avram was not optimistic on the future of the country. He said that Romanian people would continue to protest and demonstrate in the streets, since next elections in Romania would be in 2020 and Romanian people would not accept to wait until that moment to vote for a government change.

Speech by Victor Alistar, Executive Director of Transparency Romania.

According to Victor Alistar, what is happening in Romania is the indicator of a common situation taking place across Europe, namely a general crisis of the rule of law at the European level. In the case of Romania, this emergency situation has led to very little dialogue and communication on what is really happening on the ground. It is therefore fundamental to understand what is the real situation now. To do so, it is necessary that civil society and citizens talk about it. Romania cannot be considered an inclusive society, if it still presents some lacuna when it comes to protecting civil liberties.

For Alistar, in the last 10 years Romania has made very huge efforts to provide integrity and basic constitutional guarantees in order to comply with European values. Nevertheless, the situation has recently taken another direction, with many cases of corruption and breaches of the rule of law. According to the surveys conducted by Transparency Romania, more than 70% of the people interviewed have stated that corruption is one of the most serious concerns which have influenced the last elections. Romanian people want corruption to be completely  eliminated, but in the years to come the situation will probably become worse and Romania will totally lose its integrity.

– Speech by Gabriel Liiceanu, Professor at University of Bucharest.

Professor Liiceanu mentioned five relevant points characterising the current situation in Romania: a) high scale corruption since 2000, with the arrival of the social democrats to power; b) the Romanian anti-corruption directorate has opened files about 2000 politicians and the results have shown that lots of politicians were prosecuted under criminal law because of corruption; c) the new government started its mandate in a situation of direct attack on justice; d) the current political system aims to steal from Romania; e) there exists a generation of people between 20 and 40 years old who have not been contaminated by this wave of nationalism and who are ready to protest.

Speech by Attila Biro, Investigative Journalist.

According to Attila Biro, corruption and organised crime represent a cross-border threat in Europe. Romanian local officials and business people were involved in transnational corruption activities, as revealed by the Panama papers. These are people that are not scrupulous at all of robbing public money and investing it for their own interests. He stated that there were many examples of Romanian public figures involved in such cases.

MEPs’ interventions:

According to Roberta Metsola (EPP – Malta), contrary to what some MEPs think, it is fundamental to have such debates in the LIBE committee. For her, the situation in Romania should not be considered as a national issue but a European issue, since Romania is part of the European Union. The EU should put into place a common mechanism in order to assess the level of corruption in its Member States. For her, democracy, justice and the rule of law are not arbitrary elements. They are contained in the Treaties and they must be respected as collective European values equally shared across Europe. In her opinion, the fight against corruption must become a priority for every Member State.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) raised some concerns about whether the current Romanian government really wants to fight against corruption. She said that Romania should provide facts and concrete actions going in that direction. On prison conditions, she said that overcrowding was one of the main issues relating to detention in the majority of the EU Member States, but some countries such as Romania had additional problems which should be tackled immediately and directly.

For Helga Stevens (ECR – Belgium), it is unacceptable that laws are adopted without proper   consultation and without the respect of democratic principles, as it happened in Romania for the emergency ordinance.

According to Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE – France), Romania is facing a problem of  political unbalances and discussions are necessary in order to solve this situation. In her opinion, debates should involve all Europeans, since all European citizens are facing the same problems when it comes to impartiality of institutions and independence of the judiciary.

According to Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL – Germany), what most of Member States are  facing today is not a crisis of the rule of law, but a crisis of confidence in political and institutional structures.

 

Point 4 Of the LIBE Agenda : European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

 Presentation by a Commission’s representative (Mrs Belinda Pyke). The purpose of the proposal is to improve internal security and border management. Policy visa liberalization is essential in the system. The deadlines were very tight and the Commission did not have the time to conduct an impact assessment although it would have been desirable. However, the Commission published a detailed study on the subject.

In Europe, different systems for the collection of passenger data (PNR for example) are used, but not for land frontier. Australia, Canada and USA use similar methods and experience of these countries has been used for the project. The people who pose a risk will be identified. Request authorization will be easy and cheap. Applicants will receive rapidly (within 12 hours) a positive feedback. Saving travel costs for those without authorization.

The applicant will fill an online form and for the release he will pay 5 Euros. The ETIAS system provides an automatic control: such control will allow to verify that the criminal record is clean. These checks will take place on the databases such SIS, Interpol, ECRIS, Eurodac. The ETIAS central unit will compare the data in the database and the identity of the applicant. The rest of the operations will be managed by the national units. The decision of that unit will be delivered within 72 hours, unless it will be necessary to gather special information (in this case it will be possible an extension to a two-week maximum).

The cost for the creation of the ETIAS system will be 212 million euro. The annual operating costs will amount to 85 million. In any case it will be a system which is self-financing, thanks to the tax that will be paid by applicants. The data will be protected from abuse. This proposal will contribute to the security of the Schengen area because any risks will be identified prior to departure. The information may be given to law enforcement only in the case of very serious crimes (this possibility also exist for Eurodac).

The Rapporteur Kinga Gal (PPE – Hungary) not being present her notes have been presented by a colleague of the same political group. According to the rapporteur the Commission proposal is of great importance. It will cover three categories of passengers: 1) European Citizens or persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law,  2) Third-country nationals under visa obligation, 3) Third-country nationals without visa obligation.  From now on until 2020 the number of third countries without visa obligation will increase and it’s difficult to gather information for third-country nationals without visa obligation. It’s therefore necessary to create an information system legally sound by at the same time not creating an excessive burdens for Member States.

Sylvie Guillaume ( Shadow rapporteur for  S&D – France). More than 60 countries are affected by the ETIAS proposal. In principle it is an important system because it will allow more people to access the Schengen area. However, once again no real impact assessment has been conducted and the justification given by the Commission has been (as always) the urgency of the dossier. But this issue can not be launched without a true impact assessment. The urgency can not justify such a lack.

Gérard Deprez ( Shadow Rapporteur for ALDE – Belgium). Mr Deprez  wonders what professional criteria will be provided for ETIAS units and if the system will make easier the implementation of  Article 7 of the Schengen Code which foresees Compulsory systematic checks for everybody. Currently (without ETIAS) systematic checks have a significant impact on traffic at the border. However He considers that the term of 72 hours for delivering an ETIAS pre-authorisation is reasonable. For the contrary  the term of validity of five years looks excessive, because in five years time many things can change in a person’s life so that retained data could not be trusted. Also foreign experiences suggest different solutions: in US ESTA is valid for one year and in Australia for two years. Also with regard to rates, Deprez is at odds with the proposal. 5 euro is a low price if compared to the prices of US (14 euro) and Australia (20 euro). According to Deprez, then, in the request the applicant should indicate the member state where he would like to go. Moreover the proposal, should better define which criminal convictions could justify a refusal. For example, prison sentences of less than one year (as it happen in certain Nordic countries for minimal road traffic offenses) should not be an obstacle to the granting of authorization. By recalling the recent adoption of the Regulation  on the controls at the Schengen external borders he stressed how  this can be a serious problem for air traffic. (It is estimated that for a plane carrying 300 people controls may last from four hours and a half to seven hours and a half…). Border Checks  are certainly a necessary corollary for visa liberalization, but the parliament should find more efficient solutions.

Marie – Christine Vergiat (Shadow rapporteur for GUE/NGL – France) First of all Mrs Vergiat finds unacceptable the lack of a true impact assessment. Secondly the Commission may have changed the name but ETIAS is “de facto” another form of VISA. As it is framed this proposal does not promote a real cooperation between the Schengen member states,  is repressive and threatens fundamental rights under the so called “smart” borders policy.

Bodil Valero (Shadow Rapporteur Greens/EFA – Sweden) The impact assessment was necessary. As the previous speaker has stated  this new “authorization” is nothing more than another type of visa collecting several personal data (also  on education and health). Greens/Efa group would like to receive more clear explanations justifiyng  these provisions. Perhaps the Commission’s intention is to gather information that cannot be collected by other means ?  The European Data Protection Supervisor has taken a fairly critical position on some of the elements of the proposal.

Internal Security and immigration, require different legal basis in the EU Treaties and should be addressed by different texts, because adhere to different problems. The fact that then some people should be identified through a profiling system also raises an ethical problem (NDR and a legal one according to the recent CJEU ruling). Finally, the 5-year period envisaged for data stocking is too long.

Jussi Halla-Aho (Shadow rapporteur for ECR – Finland). He would like to know if ESTA and ETIAS are similar systems and if ETIAS online application will be similar to the American one. In any case, the American experience cannot be a substitute for an impact assessment.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) She said that she’s angry and tired to listen to the Commission affirming that it’s necessary to adopt better legislation (NDR See the declarations of Commission 1st Vice President Timmermans) and then impact assessments are not conducted anymore because of urgency. This rush to legislate does not make sense if the execution by the Member States is so slow. EU need to regulate well, not in a hurry. One of the problems in this proposal is that the form requires a bit of everything. There is the risk that if an applicant forgets a small offense did at 15 years old he cannot enter. She will vote against the proposal, although this could not be the line of her group. In her opinion, it would be more sensible to use better the existing instruments.

For the Commission Mrs Belinda Pyke replies that all previous proposals were accompanied by the impact assessment, so she understands the importance of this document. This time, though, a very tight schedule has been imposed by the Commission and the Council for political reasons. However, a detailed study has been conducted (NDR a version leaked by Statewatch is accessible here ). The Commission worked quickly but with great care and however the Commission remains available for clarification of specific points.

The Commission analyzed the US ESTA system, the Australian system and the Canadian one, with the purpose of understanding the weaknesses and the strengths of these systems. The required information about health are nothing new, as this provision is also present in the Schengen Code. Responding to Mr Deprez, the Commissioner believes that the period of retention of five years is reasonable. Of course where a person commits an offense such information is immediately transferred in the database. Contrary to what Mr Deprez stated, the cost is not too low, but it’s instead sufficient to ensure the smart management of borders. It is a fee that covers the costs and will (probably) ensure even a small gain. In the USA half of the fee (therefore, 7 euros) is invested in the tourism sector. Making the ETIAS free, on the other hand, would be a huge burden on the EU budget.

The Commissioner finally stresses that in case of negative result from the screening it will not immediately lead to the rejection of the request, but will require manual handling of the request for authorisation.

 

Point 5 of the Agenda :Rule of Law in Poland – State of Play . Exchange of views with Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission

1st Vice President Timmermans. VP Timmermans  opened his speech by remembering the victims of the terrorist attack in Brussels, last year. Europe has to remember not only the attack, but also the solidarity that has been manifested. Belgium has shown that it’s an extraordinary country because it replied to attacks with firmness and determination, but without abandoning the principle of liberty.  About the subject of his today’s intervention, he affirms that in Poland the situation has not evolved and rule of law violation continues to persist. Mr Przyłębska is the new President of the Constitutional Tribunal since December 2016 but there are still concerns about the fact that his appointment took place in violation of the rule of law principle. The vice president of the Court has been set aside and other judges have been nominated without respecting the formal procedure. The Polish Constitutional Tribunal is then paralyzed. On 23 February Poland replied to the questions posed by the European Union, but without announcing measures to overcome such a rule of law violation. Poland must adhere to the principles of separation of powers and of independence of judges. Firstly, this is in a Poland’s first interest: rule of law is essential for economy and for attracting investments. Furthermore, the EU and the other EU Member States have also a similar interest in the full compliance of a Member State with the rule of law principle. If this was not the case also the good functioning of the internal market, the mutual trust between Member States and the confidence in the EU will be affected. VP Timmermans is also concerned by the fact that  the Polish authorities and the Polish Government did not hesitate to attack the European Commission and the Venice Commission. In the VP view also the Council should now address this issue.

Roberta Metsola (EPP – Malta) She thanked VP  Timmerman for the frank presentation. In these months the rule of law in Poland has been violated and the Constitutional Tribunal has been called into question. Polish people have to show patriotism and courage and take action. The Polish authorities have shown few signs of rapprochement to the Commission. She asks VP Timmermans what further steps the Commission will take and if the Commission will respond to civil society’s call for more action.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) She points out that the problem is that EU doesn’t have coercive powers against member states: the only tool is the political pressure. Therefore, it is difficult to act if a country refuses to take the necessary measures. For the future, she proposes that respect of the rule of law becomes a criterion for allocating EU funds.

Helga Stevens (ECR – Belgium) The government of Poland has decided to conduct a constructive dialogue. The dialogue with the Committee should respect the principles of sovereignty and subsidiarity and VP Timmermans’ comments are a breach of such principles, since it calls for a Common front against Poland. It is also not correct that the Commission intervenes selectively. The commission, for example, didn’t say anything when a comedian in Germany has been processed or when the former president of Catalonia demanded the independence vote.

Sophia in ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands)  Poland is in breach of Article 2 of the Treaty and the Commission must intervene. The Constitutional Tribunal is not the only problem, as in Poland also freedom of the press, of assembly and of expression are at risk. It ‘a very worrying frame.  

Malin Björk (GUE/NGL – Sweden) She stresses that not only the violation of rights in Poland is very serious, but also that the government uses an unacceptable undemocratic language (especially against women). She adds that even with regard to Hungary there are many parliamentary concerned, particularly for the imprisonment of asylum-seekers.

Judith Sargentini (Greens – Netherlands) It would be very positive if the Commission could show to the Parliament the Polish government’s response to the .

Michal Boni (EPP – Poland) He highlights that most Poles don’t want to weaken the  European principles, and they want to defend the rule of law. He thanks VP Timmermans for the calm, the precision and the determination. Finally he points out that there may be the need of an intervention by the Commission.

Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar (S&D – Spain) The infringement of basic European principles has an impact on Europe, it’s not only a polish problem.

Marek Jurek (ECR – Poland) The action started by the Commission is not legally justified. It’s the Council which has to make recommendations and prepare actions to be taken, not the Commission. Then, VP Timmermans hasn’t complained about other violations of human rights in Europe, as for example for the prisoners conditions and for the latest French law encouraging abortion.

Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann (S&D – Germany) The latest intervention made by Jurek shows that he hasn’t understood what is the issue the Committee is dealing with. Poland signed the treaties and has to respect them.

Spinelli (GUE/NGL – Italy) There are some NGOs reporting on the situation at the border between Poland and Belarus, with systematic returns of asylum seekers. There are concerns on a possible return agreement between EU and Belarus.

VP Timmermans As he had already explained, the violations of rule of law by polish government is not occasional or of limited relevance: separation of powers and independence of judges are cornerstones of democracy. That’s the reason why the Commission has to act. Legal basis is the violation of the treaties (in particular of Article 2): Commission is the Guardian of the treaties. Some MEPs ask the Commission to trigger Article 7. Anyway, the Council wouldn’t do anything and the only consequence would be that the Commission wouldn’t have the responsibility of inertia.

Therefore, applying Article 7 would not help. Actually, the Commission would prefer that Member States intervene, with an exchange of view at Council’s level. The VP  can’t answer to the question asked by Spinelli, because he has not adequate information; he will ask commissioner Avramopoulos to send written answers to the committee. He stated that he has a cooperative approach, but that the answers received by the Polish Government don’t encourage to be optimist. Every Member State has his own problem with rule of law but pointing the finger at the others is useless: there are no excuses to justify their own mistakes.

Point 6 of the Agenda : Modernisation of the Council of Europe Convention 108 (Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data) .Presentation by Jean Philippe Walter (Chair of the Consultative Committee of Convention 108) and Sophie Kwasny, (General Secretariat of the  Council of Europe)

Jean Philippe Walter. Currently  50 states are parties of the Convention 108 (out of 48 states members of Council of Europe and 3 third countries). There are on other hand countries which are observers (US, Canada, South Korea), potential parties to the convention. The draft modernized convention is now on the table of the Council of Ministers, that have already had five meetings since September 2016 and next meeting is timetabled for April. The European Commission is playing the role of locomotive to promote rapid adoption of the text, so that it will come into force immediately afterwards the EU text. The finalization of the text is important to guarantee data protection even in non-EU Member States.

The most difficult issues to be agreed are on –  Article 9 on national security and state’s secret (Russia has put a reservation),  – Article 12.1 on cross borders flux of data, – Article 20.3 on voting rights. Secondly, the Council of Europe advisory committee has recently released an opinion on PNR, describing the state of play and the principles that need to be respected within the PNR data such as – Proportionality: principle that needs to be applied before using PNR data, – Guarantee of rights: in terms of efficient control by data protection authorities.

Another important text adopted by the Consultative Committee of the 108 Convention (on January 23, 2017) is about guidelines on Big Data. This text aims to give directives on how protect personal data in the context of Big Data. The main point is that this practice can involve social and ethics issues and that it will be ensured a preventive policy. The principle of transparency, as well as the principle of anonymity, should be granted. Information cannot be picked up to identify people. Automatic process, then, can’t substitute the human element in processing data. To guarantee these principle, it’s necessaire to provide education and training.

Sophie Kwasny. The Consultative committee in Strasbourg is currently working on two texts: one practical guidance to police officers and one text on medical data. Another topic the committee is working at is the data protection in the ICANN framework.

The Council of Europe has another committee (Cloud Evidence Group, established by the Budapest Convention) working on cybercrime. Last November this committee presented a Report on cybercrime, that highlights the issues that are on stake and tries to find solutions. A first solution provided is the need to overcome the increasing deficiency of traditional Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) mechanisms , the second one is to provide guidance for the interpretation of Budapest Convention (particularly on Article 18), the third one is to work on domestic rules promoting the implementation of recommendations. Finally, the text recommends to create a framework of cooperation.

The committee is still working on an additional protocol to the Budapest Convention, that will comprehend the recommendations contained in the report.

Sophia in ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands) She’s concerned about transborder share of data, because these provisions imply that EU member states should share information with non-EU states, even those that sometimes are on the news because of their lack of democracy. These countries participate to working meeting and contribute in shaping the legislation: this is worrying.

Sophie Kwasny When the drafting on an additional protocol will be announced, there would be an EU representation at the negotiations, so EU parliament will have the possibility to propose modifications through this EU representative.

Commission Data protection at international level is important exactly for binding both EU and non – EU countries. Europe needs a high-level of data protection.

 

Point 7 on the Agenda: Information exchange, early warning system and risk assessment procedure on new psychoactive substances

Rapporteur Michał Boni (PPE) The Commission has delivered an excellent text. The trilogue negotiations will probably get to an agreement. In order to succeed there is one major obstacle, that is whether there is the need of an implemented act or a delegated act. The rapporteur believes that it this case a delegated act will be more appropriate. The next trilogue meeting is set for March 28th, then the rapporteur will have further information to share with the Committee. 

23 March 2017, 14.00 – 16.30

 

 

8) New Europol Regulation (EU) 2016/794: Agreement regarding Denmark’s association with Europol after 1 May 2017 – Presentation by the Council Presidency, the European Commission and Europol.

According to the Council Presidency, cooperation between Europol and Denmark has been very effective over the years. Denmark has been among the first contributors to Europol. Therefore, an agreement should be concluded by 1 May 2017, in order not create a gap in Europol’s operations. Negotiations have already started and the issue has been discussed in the European Council. The agreement regarding Denmark’s association with Europol belongs to the agreements the agency can conclude with third countries. The specific details of the agreement will be discussed between the Commission and Denmark. The only way for Denmark to fully participate in Europol under the new Europol regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/794) is that the country makes use of Protocol 22 regulating its particular status within the EU.

According to the Commission, it is crucial to minimise the negative effects of Danish departure from Europol. The urgent need to find an agreement between Denmark and Europol was confirmed by the statements made by Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and the Danish authorities on 15 December 2016, when they highlighted the importance of finding a way to fill in the gaps created by Danish departure from Europol as soon as possible. Nevertheless, the Commission recalled that there are some conditions which Denmark has to respect in order to start cooperation activities with Europol. The first and most relevant among these conditions is the respect of Data Protection Directive with regard to data protection for police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The draft agreement between Europol and Denmark makes specific reference to all the relevant data protection provisions contained in the new Europol regulation. Denmark will be bound to the respect of these provisions and the Court of Justice will have the competence to intervene in case of violations of the dispositions established by the Europol-Denmark agreement. Another clause contained in the draft text, which was further reinforced following the opinion of the European Parliament, is the assessment provision. According to this clause, the Commission will be able to carry out an assessment on reliability of sources and accuracy of information. The results of this assessment will be then submitted to the Parliament and the Council, in order to monitor on Denmark’s respect of data protection and accuracy of information.

According to the representative of Europol, Denmark is a EU Member State and it has to continue to be part of Europol. The agreement between Denmark and Europol would be shaped as an agreement with a third country. It is clear that in this way Denmark will lose its full participation in Europol. For example, it will no longer be able to vote for Europol’s internal decisions and its operational participation as well as cooperation with the agency will be limited. On the other hand, Denmark will continue to contribute to Europol’s budget. Among the benefits deriving from this agreement. Denmark will become an observer in Europol’s management and it will be informed directly on relevant information.

MEPs’ interventions:

Agustín Díaz De Mera García Consuegra (EPP – Spain), rapporteur of the draft report on the Council implementing decision amending Decision 2009/935/JHA as regards the list of third States and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements, recalled that during the plenary session on 14 February 2017 the proposal to work on the agreement between Europol and Denmark was accepted unequivocally, since Denmark’s contribution to Europol was considered fundamental for Europol’s operations.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) acknowledged the efforts made by Denmark to implement a new data protection archive. According to her, even though Denmark has decided to leave Europol, it will continue to be a EU Member State and cooperation between Europol and Member States is fundamental for information exchange in order fight against terrorism and criminal organisations. She recalled, however, that the new Europol regulation provides that a third country has to pass through a transitional period of 5 years before becoming fully operational within Europol. Since Denmark has become a third country in terms of cooperation with Europol, these provisions cannot be bypassed and no exception should be made, since the country must now be treated as all the other third countries which are cooperating with the agency.

Anders Primdahl Vistisen (ECR – Denmark) highlighted the importance of the agreement for both Europol and Denmark. In his opinion, Denmark will benefit from operational advantages and such an agreement will constitute the basis for any future cooperation between the two actors, in order to allow Denmark to continue to be an active player within the EU security system.

For Morten Helveg Petersen (ALDE – Denmark), it is in the European interest to make Denmark still participate in the fight against international crimes through Europol. Gaps cannot be created in police cooperation among Member States. The agreement between Denmark and Europol will give Denmark a second level access to Europol’s databases and for the moment that is enough. Since Denmark is not a full member of Europol anymore, the country has to accept partial cooperation with the agency. However, such an agreement cannot last too much and Denmark has to become a full member of Europol again.

 

9) Standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast) – Consideration of amendments by the rapporteur Sophia In ‘t Veld

Sophia In ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands) commented on the amendments to her draft report on the Commission’s proposal for a Directive laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast). She said that about 500 hundreds amendments had been presented and two extensive shadow meetings had been organised in order to work on a comprehensive compromise amendment. She also clarified that some of the amendments presented were going in exactly the opposite direction of the recast and that it would be very difficult to include them in the compromise amendment. According to her, during the shadow meetings discussions took place on detention, the right to travel to other Member States, access to the labour market, language courses, civic education, special reception needs and healthcare for vulnerable categories, especially children. In conclusion, she stated the works were advancing well. However, she recalled that the recast should be considered as part of the asylum package and therefore the compromise amendment should also take into consideration the other reforms of the CEAS.

MEPs’ interventions:

According to Salvatore Domenico Pogliese (shadow rapporteur for EPP – Italy), the draft report of the European Parliament should respect the original proposal of the Commission and not modify it too much. In his opinion, national competent authorities, in accordance with local authorities, should decide if they want to provide protection. Protection is, for him, something voluntary and this voluntary nature should emerge from the draft report.

For Kati Piri (shadow rapporteur for S&D – Netherlands), the draft report is very good because it reduces incentives for asylum applicants to move to a second country, it introduces  better safeguards for support and assistance to asylum seekers and it eliminates detention of asylum seekers who could previously be detained just for the fact of being asylum seekers. However, some points still need to be improved. She said for instance that the reduction in the number of months from nine to six, and from six to zero as some groups had proposed, to obtain access to the labour market would give economic migrants the possibility to apply for asylum, receive a work permit immediately after and then be obliged to leave because their application would be found invalid. According to her, the period to receive a work permit should coincide which the period needed for accelerated procedures, namely within 2 months, since this would make identification of economic migrants possible and it would reduce the chances for them to abuse the system.

According Jussi Halla-Aho (shadow rapporteur for ECR – Finland), the objective of the recast of the reception directive is to fight economic migrants and the draft report does not go in that direction. In his opinion, asylum seekers should enjoy some rights, but these rights should not include the rights to lie and not to cooperate with the host Member State. He said that there should be a balance between rights and cooperation and that rules should be standardised for all Member States, otherwise some of them would continue to be overburdened. On minor detention, he said that minors should be considered as the most challenging group of asylum seekers from the point of view of public order, which requires that they are detained as soon as possible after their arrival. On people with special reception needs, he said that the fact that these people should not be detained could create some problems, since the category of people with special reception needs had been extended to include every king of asylum seeker, thus making impossible to detain anybody. In conclusion, he underlined that the amendments presented by his party wanted to emphasise the duties of asylum applicants, make the asylum system less attractive for people who did not possess the requirements in order to be part of it and increase sanctions for those who did not respect the rules.

According to Cornelia Ernst (shadow rapporteur for GUE/NGL – Germany), it is positive to recognize that there are people and categories with special reception needs, such as women on their own, pregnant women, children, minority groups and so on. However, these people come from different personal situations. Every situation should therefore be evaluated individually, in order to look into their particular special needs and cope with these needs in the most effective way. She particularly appreciated the introduction of language courses for migrants and the extension of family ties for family reunification. For her, language courses should be free of charge at the very least. Member States therefore have to find ways to finance such courses to make them free of charges for refugees. As regards detention, she said that it should be inconceivable to detain vulnerable categories just for the fact of being asylum applicants. She also stated that asylum seekers should be given the opportunity to work as soon as possible and they should be provided with language courses from the first moment, in order to facilitate their rapid integration within European societies.

According to Bodil Valero (shadow rapporteur for Greens/EFA – Sweden), the recast of the reception directive constitutes one of the most important pieces of legislation the EU is dealing with within the revision of the asylum package. For her, the main issue is that discussions are not taking into account the necessity to establish similar conditions for all Member States, and this lack of similar conditions will continue to promote secondary movements and asylum shopping. The biggest discrepancies among Member States’ reception conditions should be eliminated as quick as possible, otherwise asylum seekers will be always willing to reach the Member State which is offering the best conditions. Regarding access to labour market, she claimed that asylum seekers should be granted access to the labour market from day 1, especially in those cases in which it is clear that the examination of the asylum application would last more than four months. In her opinion, asylum seekers cannot wait months and months without working. They need to become part of the host society from day 1. She therefore did not agree with ALDE’s proposal to give access to the labour market after two months (the time needed for an accelerated procedure). For her, the problem of economic migrants abusing the system does not exist, since unfounded asylum applications automatically fall outside the system. It is therefore necessary to work on people who are part of the asylum system and make them feel at ease from the first moment.

The rapporteur Sophia In ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands) concluded the session by stating that the principle at the basis of the new reception directive should be “treating human beings the way you want to be treated”. To reach this objective, both carrots and sticks are needed. For her, it is not admissible that in a continent like Europe there are people who die in winter because of bad conditions in structures which do not even deserve the name “tents”. She also said that people could be considered as criminals just because they were trying to improve their living conditions. According to her, people will always try to take advantage of this possibility and secondary movement is more than that. It is mainly the result of push factors which urge people to look for a decent life, when this is not possible in the country of first arrival due to bad reception conditions.

As regards access to labour market, she said that even in those countries where there were extensive conditions in terms of access to labour market, only 20% of asylum seekers had received work permits. For her, this indicates that even in the most advanced countries the situation is quite sad and it should be improved and harmonised across all Member States. In conclusion,  she states that extensions should always be accompanied by some restrictive measures. Her draft report therefore tries to make a balance between carrots and sticks. It  includes, for instance, the possibility to detain people who do not respect the rules, provided that some guarantees are respected.

 

10) Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) – Presentation of the EMSC report “Migrant smuggling in the EU” of February 2017 by Robert Crepinko, Head of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre.

Robert Crepinko, head of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, stated that over the last few years there had been a boost of criminal activities in Europe and that the unprecedented migration flows had triggered policy development, thus urging Europol to found the European Migrant Smuggling Centre in February 2016 with the aim of combating the phenomenon of smuggling. The heads of the national Counter-Migrant Smuggling Units gathered at Europol in February 2017 to discuss about the steps to take in the future. The topics discussed during the meeting were the following: a) policy development; b) cross-platform approach; c) cooperation with third countries, especially Africa with regard to the central Mediterranean route; d) use of modern technologies. Among the key outcomes of the meeting, general agreements were concluded on a multidisciplinary approach and closer cooperation was established not only with regard to migration issues.

According to Crepinko, the report “Migrant smuggling in the EU” aims to evaluate the works of the EMSC after one year of operations and to provide some updates. During that year, some improvement relating to the operational aspect were reported. For instance, 17459 new suspected migrant smugglers were identified (+24% compared to 2015), 1150 suspect social media accounts were communicated to the EMSC, cooperation with Frontex was reinforced and experts of the centre were deployed to Italian and Greek hotspots in order to increase security checks for the identification of possible security threats coming into Europe. The strategic aspect was improved as well, through, among other things, briefings on hotspot activities, active engagement with external partners, expert meetings and high working groups. The report also identifies the main goals for the way forward, including the focus on key priorities, such as fraud, financial intelligence and e-smuggling, and the consolidation of joint ventures with key partners like Eurojust, Frontex, EUNAVFORMED and Europol.

According to Crepinko, there is still a huge work ahead. Nevertheless, there has never been such a consolidated work on smuggling or such integrated cooperation with Europol in order to contribute to the identification of criminals entering into Europe. He also announced the definition of a new legal basis for the EMSC, which is expected for May 2017.

MEPs’ interventions:

According to Agustín Díaz De Mera García Consuegra (EPP – Spain), possible cooperation with African and Middle Eastern countries is a strategic point, since these two regions are a real hub for smugglers. For him, it is fundamental to neutralise smuggling networks and to fight against criminal gangs which exploit migrants in African countries. He therefore considered the possibility of having officers directly in the countries of origin,  instead of in hotspots in Italy and Greece. He also asked for some clarifications about the interference with the operations conducted by Frontex, since for him the dividing line between the competences of Frontex and the EMCS is not clear.

Marek Jurek (ECR – Poland) asked how it was possible to make life harder for smugglers and traffickers in legal terms. He also recalled that in April 2015 the European Council had taken the decision of combating smugglers on the grounds, thus reinforcing the elements already provided for by the UN security council.

For Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL – France), cooperation with African countries is extremely important, with regard to the Horn of Africa in particular. Cooperation with the Horn of Africa should not be regarded in the same way as cooperation with Western African countries, since the situation of human rights in the former is completely different compared to the latter. She asked for more information about the evolution of cooperation activities with this area and in particular with Sudan.

According to Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany), there is an overestimation of the importance of information exchange for the fight against criminal networks and Europol is continuously focusing its attention on the need to close the intelligence gap with regard to information exchange. For her, Europol and police cooperation are important tools to fight against smugglers, but they should not be considered as the only instruments. Efforts should be done on economic conditions and development in third countries as well, and new tools should be put into practice in order to reinforce police cooperation with third countries.

 

11) Conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly skilled employment.  Consideration of amendments by the rapporteur Claude Moraes

Claude Moraes (S&D – United Kingdom) commented on the amendments to his draft report on the Commission’s proposal for a Directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly skilled employment. According to him, the Blue Card directive should be considered as one of the few legal migration instruments within the EU migration policy. In his opinion, the reform of the Blue Card is fundamental to make such an instrument as effective as possible, since it represents one of the few legal measures to improve the situation of highly qualified migrants.

Claude Moraes said that 509 amendments had been presented and that several key areas should be discussed in order to propose a compromise amendment:

  1. a) national schemes vs. European Standards: it should be discussed whether to allow national schemes to continue to exist in parallel with the Blue Card or not;
  2. b) definitions: what do “highly skilled employment”, “high educational qualification” and “high professional environment” mean?
  3. c) scope of the Blue Card: it should be discussed whether to expand the scope of the directive to include applicants for international protection or to limit its scope as much as possible;
  4. d) salary threshold: should the salary threshold be deleted or kept mandatory? Should the rates of this threshold be changed?
  5. e) family members: defining the situation of family members of a Blue Card holder. Should access to the labour market be provided to them as well?

In conclusion, the rapporteur said that the approach to be taken should aim to make the Blue Card a more credible instrument, thus becoming a real and effective legal avenue within the EU migration policy.

MEPs’ interventions:

According to Nathalie Griesbeck (shadow rapporteur for ALDE – France), the proposal is an open and inclusive instrument, since it focuses on the flexibility and attractiveness of the Blue Card. In her opinion, the original Blue Card directive, adopted almost ten years ago, is not working well at all, since formalities are so complex that people who might benefit from the card just cannot do it, as Member States are not doing part of their work to promote and apply the directive. She clarified that the approach adopted by her group primarily aimed to provide greater flexibility of measures and procedures. Secondly, it aimed to extend the scope of the directive and eliminate the salary threshold, which represented the major element of deterrence for applying for the Blue Card. Thirdly, it aimed to create a system being completely European, thus working for a renewed Blue Card which could end up substituting the national approaches adopted by Member States and make Europe more attractive at the same time.

According to Barbara Spinelli (shadow rapporteur for GUE/NGL – Italy), the Blue Card directive has been a failure up to now. The Blue Card doesn’t work as it should, because some Member States, such as Germany and Sweden, have more inclusive systems than others when it comes to highly skilled employment of migrants. In her opinion, it must be ensured that such a legal instrument works efficiently in all Member States. As a result, it is essential to get rid of the obstacles that can prevent from the application of the directive, such as the limits imposed by the requirements concerning the years of experience required, the high levels of university formation as well as the high salary threshold. She also added that in her proposal she had included the possibility to apply for the Blue Card online and to make it easier for Blue Card holders to enjoy the right to family reunification.

For Bodil Valero (shadow rapporteur for Greens/EFA – Sweden), the proposal should be further improved in order to make Europe more attractive not only for highly qualified employees, but in terms of labour market in general. She recalled that many people were using asylum applications to get a work permit in Europe and she proposed that the Blue Card directive should include legal ways for labour immigration with regard to every kind of economic migrants, in order to reduce this large abuse and relieve the asylum system. Her idea is to put into place a legal instrument in order to give migrant professionals the opportunity to enter legally, thus reducing the burden on the asylum system created by economic migrants who try to make use of the asylum application to get a work permit in Europe. According to her, the reform should work on the elimination of the differences between national practices and on the extension of its scope to asylum seekers as well, since there are lots of highly qualified professionals among them. In her opinion, legal avenues are fundamental to combat illegal, black labour. Therefore, the Blue Card But should not be limited to highly qualified migrants. It should include all sort of economic migrants which otherwise would try to enter into Europe through the asylum system or illegally, ending up working illegally and without paying taxes.

Intervention by the Commission

According to the speaker on behalf of the Commission, the reform of the Blue Card directive represents an important debate on the extension of the scope and the inclusion of economic migrants, but it should be kept in mind that the priority of the reform is to implement the already existing instruments. Up to now, the Blue Card has been the only existing tool. The tool regulates highly skilled professionals and it cannot refer to low and medium professionals. The focus should be on this category, in order not to lose the main objective which is to improve Europe’s attractiveness in terms of highly skilled employment.

 

12) Electronic vote on:

  1. a) a draft motion for a resolution on adequacy of the protection afforded by the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield. The motion was adopted.
  2. b) a draft report on the proposal for a Council decision on the application of the provisions of the Schengen acquis in the area of the Schengen Information System in the Republic of Croatia. The draft report was adopted.
  3. c) a draft report on the proposal for a Council implementing decision on the automated data exchange with regard to dactyloscopic data in Latvia. The draft report was adopted on simplified procedure.
  4. d) a draft report on the proposal for a Council implementing decision on the automated data exchange with regard to DNA data in Slovakia, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Cyprus, Poland, Sweden, Malta and Belgium. The draft report was adopted on simplified procedure.
  5. e) a draft report on the proposal for a Council implementing decision on the automated data exchange with regard to dactyloscopic data in Slovakia, Bulgaria, France, Czech Republic, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Hungary, Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, Romania and Finland. The draft report was adopted on simplified procedure.
  6. f) a draft report on the proposal for a Council implementing decision on the automated exchange of data concerning vehicles registered in Finland, Slovenia, Romania, Poland, Sweden, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary. The draft report was adopted on simplified procedure.
  7. e) a draft report on the proposal for a Council implementing decision on the automated data exchange with regard to vehicle registration in Malta, Cyprus and Estonia. The draft report was adopted on simplified procedure.

 

 Point 13 of the Agenda : First LIBE Security dialogue. Exchange of views with Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union and VP Timmermans

Julian King opened his speech with a message of solidarity for the victims of London and Bruxelles attacks.  The risk rests extremely high in Europe.He affirms that EU will never be able to guarantee 100% of security, but the work is getting more precise and effective. The main topic on  the agenda are the information sharing instruments, in view of improving them. Cooperation and information sharing are important because only together member states will tackle terrorism and organized crime. As the Commission always affirm, the first step is to make full use of existing databases, benefiting from the support given by Commission. On April 2016, a report on information system has been published. The report pointed out shortcomings and gaps between the States. In February there was a meeting about the utilization of the existing system and it’s possible to recap synthetically.

SIS is the more utilized system. It is an operational success because it’s increasingly used by member states. The Commission considers however that member states should utilize better Dna and fingerprints databases (NDR created in the PRUM framework). The deadline for the implementation of the PRUM decisions by the Member States was August 2009 but even today there are member states that still don’t use them.

The “Swedish initiative” (dealing with the exchange of intelligence led data) has made a good progress with implementation, but there are still differences about the methods of utilization. This Committee and EP have made also a great work in making mandatory the exchange of information notably with the EU directive on counter-terrorism. Unfortunately the use of  VIS (Visa information system) is still hectic and fragmentary. Luckily there is an increasing transfer of national informations to  Europol and Eurojust and this shows an increasing trust in European agencies.

The EU PNR directive is not yet fully implemented (Member States have time until may 2018) and in November the Commission published an implementation plan.

To fill all these gaps and shortcomings, the Commission intend to submit some proposals which are deemed to improve the effective sharing of information. The proposal is about making it obligatory to put information in Europol databases. Protection of datas will be guaranteed by strict rules. Another proposal concerns the modification of Eurodac.

Furthermore, the new proposal about external borders will improve EU security against terrorism and organized crime. ETIAS also is a legislative priority and it should be adopted by the end of the year. The urgency of the dossier didn’t consent to conduct a proper impact assessment, but the text was written on the basis of a detailed study.

Roberta Metsola (EPP – Malta) She would like to know the progress made by the 6 member states that didn’t implemented the fingerprints system. She considers it a shame that there are member states that didn’t implemented a tool of such importance. Furthermore, she points out how her group considers helpful impact assessments, especially regarding ETIAS.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) She finds bizarre that on one side the Commission affirms that there was no time for impact assessment, while, on the other side,  member states are slow in delivering information and some of them don’t implement the existing tools. She would also like to read an impact assessment that could demonstrate that taking fingerprints from asylum seekers and from children might be helpful. The real problem seems to be that there are now too many data on the databases and security services don’t know how to deal with this huge amount of data. For example, for PNR database the officials have to deal with millions and millions of data, while just few are helpful against crimes. She wonders how EU can balance security and protection of data and of legal procedings. She would also know something more about interoperability.

Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE – France) She hopes that sharing of information will increase in the future. She would like to know something more about cybercrimes and cyber resilience. She asks which is the Commission position on the measure adopted by USA and UK, about the restriction of tablets and computers on airplanes coming  from Middle-East Countries. She thinks that this measure could being interpreted as discriminatory.

Judith Sargentini (Greens – Netherlands) She affirms that Eurodac is a system designed to distinguish asylum seekers from migrants. She therefore wonders how this database can be used as an instruments against criminal investigation. This extensive use is a further element of insecurity for migrants that actually need to integrate. Furthermore, she would like to be given a practical example of how does interoperability practically work, and how interoperability could overcome a threat for public security.

Monika Hohlmeier (EPP – Germany) She asks which countries don’t have implemented yet the existing tools. She wonders how can be possible that EU institution didn’t solved this problem earlyer. Then, she would like to have some examples of difficulties linked to interconnectivity. Finally, she asks which kind of help for data analysis will be provided by the Commission.

Caterina Chinnici (S&D – Italy) International terrorism and cybercrime must be tackled through cooperation and information sharing. A great work has been done on protection of victims in the directive, but it’s possible to do better. She’s concerned about the fact that some countries implement EU legislation in a more efficient way than others (as for what concerns access to Vis database and Prüm decision) and she urges the Commission to take appropriate measures. Then, she highlights the need to find a solution to the interoperability issue and the need to create a single platform to access data, to simplify operators’ work. Finally, she asks to the commissioner what are they planning to do against cybercrime, that comports risks for citizens and for states.

Carlos Coelho (EPP – Portugal) He points out that the subject of the agenda are the existing systems: the colleagues have to be pragmatic, trying to improve the existing tools. SIS is a good example, developed in relation with stakeholders’ opinions. He agrees with the Commission about the necessity to take profit of fingerprints analysis.  He points out that the Commission has to be more rigorous for the implementation of measures: still there are member states that haven’t implemented PNR directive and Prüm decision and furthermore the Council doesn’t give statistics about the use of these tools. Finally, he asks if member states are supposed to put every data on databases or if they have to choose, in order to guarantee a high-qualitative collection of data.

Sophia in ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands)  She asks the Commissioner what he means by “closing the info gap”, therefore which specific measures are considered by the Commission. She affirms that she’s in favor of automatic and compulsory sharing, but also that recent attacks have shown that information sharing is not enough. The London terrorist was known by police, but this information didn’t help to prevent the attack. In addiction, EU is spending huge amount of money on information sharing, while probably there is the need of different measures. She would also like to know VP Timmermans’ opinion on the prolonged state of emergency in France, if it’s justified and whether it represents a signal of surrender.

Marju Lauristin (S&D – Estonia) She insists on the necessity of high-qualitative data analysis and databases. She asks which resources, then, the Commission is investing on high professionalism in analysis staff.

Monika Hohlmeier (EPP – Germany) She states that Libe Committee is not a “complaint-committee”: the Parliament is not a protest organism, but a partner in prevention. EU institutions are doing a good job: many attacks have been prevented and people have been imprisoned. The police are now trained to act quickly and databases are means to prevent attacks. What she would like to know is how many attacks have been prevented thanks to PNR system. It’s important to have statistics also about successful tools.

Commissioner Julian King The Commissioner thanks the committee to be so engaged in these issues. For what concerns interoperability and prevention, these issues are not contained in the day-agenda, so they will discuss it in another meeting, if the committee is interested. In particular, his remarks on the program established to tackle radicalization and to promote integration is available on the website of the Commission.

For what concerns what the EU institutions have learnt from the previous attacks, VP Timmermans affirms that these attacks are extremely difficult to prevent. Even if a person has been declared subject of interest, he can’t be a subject of interest forever. Furthermore, if the person is not plugged to any network, it’s even more difficult to identify him as dangerous. It’s crucial to avoid the impression that the institutions can eliminate the risk: obviously it’s possible to reduce the risk. For the implementation issue, the Commission is very committed and produces implementation plans.  Prüm Convention, for example, represents a big challenge for Europe. Infringement procedures could be triggered, if member states continue not to implement European legislation in this area.  

As regards ETIAS, the Commission affirms that he can understand the MEPs’ frustration about the lack of impact assessment. But he repeats that there was urgency; however, he cannot promise that in the future the Commission will have time to conduct impact assessment for every report, if urgency occurs. He agrees with MEPs that affirmed the necessity of high qualitative data: this is an essential element and he would like to know more specifically which measures they think it should introduce. Also, Parliamentary contribute will be necessary to design a single platform to consult data. The commission, then, is still working on new measures to help victims of terroristic attacks. The commission is developing the concepts of cyber criminality and cyber resilience and new reports will be available in the next months.  Regards the ban on electronic devices on flights from Middle-East, the Commission says that soon there will be the Meeting of Aviation Security and aviation experts will discuss the new measures. The commission will keep the Parliament informed on the evolving of the measures.

 

Point 14 of the Agenda : Implementation report on EU-US Passenger Name Records (PNR) Agreement (COM(2017)0029, SWD(2017)0014, SWD(2017)0020) and the EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) Agreement (COM(2017)0031, SWD(2017)0017) Presentation by Luigi Soreca, Director for Security, DG HOME, European Commission

Luigi Soreca For what concerns the EU-US PNR Agreement, the report is generally positive, because essential safeguard of data has been granted by the US authorities. Transfer of Eu data outside is a sensitive topic: it’s vital ensuring that these data of citizens will be processed legally and fairly. These reports have been conducted in a very constructive atmosphere with Us experts and they allow the EU to better understand how data are utilized by the US authorities. The report is a EU report but the US has been given the opportunity to provide comments. These comments have been take into account but they didn’t enter in the report when EU experts didn’t share them. All the recommendations made in the previous review (2013) have been either been implemented or improvements have been made.

EU has requested to US authorities to do more in some areas, for example in improving record keeping. In addiction the number of EU staff which can access to EU-US PNR data has been raised (2000 more individuals have been granted to access to PNR), thanks to appropriate training: EU have requested US clarifications and they will check the answers during the next joint evaluation. The scope of the exchange of PNR data cover the flights between US and UE, but USA use the same requirements for all the flights. US didn’t collect any other data from the passengers. On data security (Article 5), authorities have put in place a system (CBP customers board protection) that ensure that only authorized staff could have access to passengers’ information. No privacy incidents have taken place and no passenger has asked for corrections or ratifications for his own PNR. Transparency is respected: there is a wide range of information available online

Regarding the TFTP, the agreement has been properly implemented and the findings of the previous joint review have been followed up. TFTP has been a very relevant instrument in the last two years for Europol but also for national law enforcement authorities. The number of leads that the TFTP has been given testimonies the usefulness of the tool. The retention period (maximum 5 years) is respected by US authorities. Even in the attack in London the TFTP has been requested and they have been delivered to the UK authorities. What EU has asked to US to do more is to take further contact with the Member States through Europol.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) How relevant are both measures (PNR and TFTP) in fighting organised crime and terrorism? The Parliament doesn’t get any statistic about how many of PNR and TFTP data become part of investigations.

Monika Hohlmeier (EPP – Germany) There are some Member States that utilise already PNR and she would like to know if there is an efficient exchange of data and coordination between Member States, and which difficulties they have. According to her, it’s positive to gather data, but this activity should have a clear and shared function. Secondly, Europol affirms that micro financing plays a very important role and she wonders how Member States manage to deal with this issue, because it’s not necessary to have big funds to commit this kind of attacks. Finally, EU should build an European TFTP, without the obligation of sharing information with US.

Sophia in ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands)  She asks to Soreca if he can confirm that US has not decided yet if TFTP and PNR are whether exempted or not from the privacy act. She asks further information about judicial redress and umbrella agreement.

Judith Sargentini (Greens – Netherlands) The fact that no passenger has already asked for passenger’s data could be explained by the low level (or lack) of awareness. She asks more explanation on this point.  About TFTP, she affirms that this is the first time that a Commission Official gives the Parliament a feedback about a specific case in which TFTP data have been requested by a Member State. She hopes that these kind of exemplifications will continue, because the Parliament needs practical demonstrations of how these data are being used. Finally, she asks what stage has the European TFTP project reached.

Helga Stevens (ECR – Belgium) She asks what Soreca thinks about the project of extending PNR also to international railways and busways. There are countries that has already adopted this approach.

Luigi Soreca There is room for improvement in utilisation of data. Nevertheless, he’s convinced that when the European PNR will be in place member states will get more trained to manage data.  On TFTP, the situation is different because of the filtering role of Europol: it’s Europol that has to address requests to US authorities to receive data, on his own initiative or on member states’ request. TFTP has been able to stop some forms of terrorist financing. He agrees that for microfinancing, TFTP cannot help so much because latest terrorist attacks didn’t need a big amount of money to be committed. But TFTP can intercept funds involved in training and organising these attacks.  A European TFTF will be necessary because it will cover areas not covered (for reasons of cost and effectiveness) by the current TFTP. For this purpose, an impact assessment is in course of study.  Nobody has requested rectification of PNR. On the website of the CBP there is lot of informative material in terms of transparency. The new PNR directive does not cover other forms of transport as international railway, but the Commission will be very looking forward to evaluate the necessity and proportionality of national measures in this area.

Sophia in ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands)  She would like to receive a definitive answer by the Commission about the judicial redress, the umbrella agreement, and the repeal of the exemption to the privacy act. She states that all the answers she’s been given by the Commission have been elusive.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) She repeated that the Parliament is not informed about what member states do with these information, whether investigation or other activities and that the parliament would like to be informed about the utilisation of these data, at the national level.

Luigi Soreca About the intervention made by Sophia in ‘t Veld, that is a very complex question that covers several departments and she will certainly get an answer by the Commission.  About the intervention made by Sippel, he states that the Commission doesn’t have now precise information by the countries about how PNR information are used within the states, but they will get more information when countries will completely implement the directive.

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