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.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading