by Luigi LIMONE (FREE-Group Trainee)
NB : Video link of the LIBE Security Dialogue with Thomas De Maizière (Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany) and Matthias Fekl (Minister of the Interior of France) – Exchange of views
As part of the security dialogue between France and Germany, a letter from the Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany and the Minister of the Interior of France concerning enhanced collective security in Europe was sent on 20 February 2017. The two ministers were invited to present the main points of their security dialogue before the LIBE committee.
Firstly, Matthias Fekl talked about the current perspectives on counter-terrorism in Europe. According to him, Europe is facing extremely high threat levels and therefore there is a lot to do in the field of security and prevention. The EU needs to work quickly and effectively, in order to combat terrorism and protect its citizens and their civil liberties. To do so, Member States should make use of the new counter-terrorism regulation which has recently been adopted and which constitutes a very important legal instrument. Among the long-term objectives in this area, Fekl mentioned the protection of EU external borders as the priority. In his opinion, new measures should be adopted to reinforce external border controls, such as a correct implementation of the PNR directive, the strengthening of the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the application of the fire-arms directive.
Thomas De Maizière then talked about the importance of interoperability, which is about interlinks between the different systems. According to him, the principle of interoperability is fundamental for a good interconnection between information systems. Specifically, Eurodac and the Schengen Information System (SIS) should be considered as two complementary databases, the former collecting fingerprints but no names and the latter collecting names but not fingerprints. For De Maizière, interoperability is a central element of the EU security policy and there is today a need for a smart system for access to data as well as a rapid information exchange. He recalled, however, that data protection provisions should be respected in any case.
On interoperability, Matthias Fekl stated that every law enforcement officers should have real and direct access to information, in order to easily identify possible threats. For him, it is necessary to reinforce entry/exit controls at external borders, including on EU citizens. To do so, the EU should find a right balance between interoperability and protection of personal data. According to him one thing does not necessarily exclude the other.
Thomas De Maizière then dealt with the entry/exit system, which is expected to be put into place by the middle of the current year. For him, the entry/exit system is a prerogative for the existence of an area of free movement inside Europe. The EU must therefore reinforce its controls at the external borders. To do so, Member States have to make use of the information and data collection instruments which have already been put into place.
Matthias Fekl introduced the last element of the discussion, namely cryptic electronic device cooperation. According to him, one of the problems the EU is facing in this domain concerns the lack of cooperation on data exchange and information release by several electronic device operators. To close this gap, electronic device operators should be subjected to equal requirements concerning information transfer, while ensuring the full respect of individual freedom and personal data at the same time.
Thomas De Maizière concluded on telecommunications and media, by stating that the EU had already tried to adapt its legal framework to modern technologies, such as smartphones and internet devices. According to him, it is however necessary to move from a legislation based on the type of technology (each technology has its own regulation) to a legislation focusing on different forms of surveillance and control on the information sources accessed by such devices.
Debate with MEPs:
For Roberta Metsola (EPP – Malta), it is not true that the only solution in order to reinforce internal security is the strengthening of EU external border controls, since there are some elements which refer to the internal security level. She also raised some concerns about the EU-US data protection agreement.
According to Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany), there are some basic prerogatives upon which Member States must agree before, in order for interoperability to work in the right direction. Moreover, harmonisation is needed when it comes to definitions of what terrorism, terrorist threat and suspect of terrorism are.
Helga Stevens (ECR – Belgium) agreed with the necessity to find a balance between information exchange and privacy protection. She also highlighted the urgent need to fight against terrorist organisations and she made the example of Belgium, where, according to her, thousands of jihadist organisations are hiding in Molenbeek and they must be fought against.
Sophia In ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands) said that she was quite worried about the implementation of new proposals concerning security, since the proposals previously adopted by the EU had not been implemented correctly by Member States. According to her, some Member States are basically not interested in applying existing legislation and this creates a gap in the EU security system. In her opinion, a better definition of what terrorism is would be necessary and the EU should strike the right balance between security measures and safeguards for citizens when it comes to privacy and data protection.
According to Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL – Germany), it is necessary to look at the data which is already available and to think about how law enforcement forces from different Member States communicate with each other. For her, the main problem relates to the lack of communication and the existence of huge gaps in information exchange between law enforcement authorities across countries.
Ska Keller (Greens/EFA – Germany) asked for more precise figures on relocation from Greece and Italy and asked how France and Germany intend to work for speeding up the relocation process. She also told to be worried about Germany and France sending migrants back to Greece.
According to Christine Revault d’Allonnes-Bonnefoy (S&D – France), it is necessary to work on harmonisation of training activities for border and coast guards, police as well as security officials across Europe.
Cecilia Wikström (ALDE – Sweden) highlighted the importance not to mix asylum seekers and migration policy with terrorism. She said, however, that reducing the burden on frontline states caused by migration flows could lead to better security cooperation.
For Gérard Deprez (ALDE – Belgium), it is fundamental to ensure that any alarm triggered by the system is transferred immediately to the European Police Office (Europol).
For Michal Boni (EPP – Poland), when it comes to interoperability it is necessary to consider the new technical architecture for sending information in the real time. For him, telecommunication obligations and e-privacy measures are interconnected and they have to be based on a balance between the respect for fundamental rights and the need for greater security.
According to Ana Gomes (S&D – Portugal), the reinforcement of external borders is not the right solution since recent terrorist attacks have shown that the problem comes from the inside, from home-grown terrorists. In her opinion, it is crucial to prevent radicalisation and promote de-radicalisation especially in European prisons. Another solution would be the promotion of safe and legal pathways for migrants, because in this way they would not be obliged to enter into contact with smugglers and criminal organisations to come into Europe.
For Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL – Italy), blocking migration flows is not the appropriate measure to reinforce security. Most of the problems affecting the EU security system concern weak data exchange and limited transfer of information.
For Marek Jurek (ECR – Poland), in order to reinforce internal security it is necessary to exercise a strict control on smuggling activities, which he considers a real industry for illegal migration and criminals.