Legislative Tracker : the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

by Beatrice FRAGASSO (Free-Group Trainee)

The European Commission, on 16 November 2016, has put forward a proposal (COM(2016) 731, 16.11.2016, 2016/0357(COD)) establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and amending Regulation (EU) (EU) 2016/399 (the ‘Schengen Borders Code’), (EU) 2016/794 and (EU) 2016/1624.

This proposal is being negotiated as part of the Smart Border Package and aims to ensure a high level of internal security and free movement of persons in the Schengen area. The Commission didn’t conduct an impact assessment but published a feasibility study on ETIAS, conducted between June and October 2016.

The system designed by the proposal would require also visa-exempt travellers to undergo a risk assessment with respect to security, irregular migration and public health risks prior to their arrival at the Schengen borders. This assessment would be carried out by means of cross- checking applicant’s data submitted through ETIAS system against other EU information systems, a dedicated ETIAS watch list and screening rules. This process will result in granting or denying an automated authorization for entering the EU.

Further information from the European Parliament Research Service are available HERE

The current situation
Currently, both visa-obliged and visa-exempt travelers are subject to border controls when entering the Schengen area. According to Regulation (EU) 2016/399, both categories of travelers need to comply with the conditions for short-term stay, which include not being a threat to public order and security, holding valid travel documents, justifying the purpose and conditions of the intended stay, not being the subject of any alert in the SIS for the purpose of refusing entry, and having sufficient means of subsistence.

For visa holders the compliance with this conditions is assessed at the time on the request for a visa  and relevant data are stored in visa information system (VIS) which can be consulted by law enforcement authorities for the purposes of combatting serious crime and terrorism.

However, no such advance information can be currently obtained for visa-exempt nationals arriving at the Schengen external borders. This means that border guards need to decide on allowing or refusing access to the Schengen area without prior knowledge regarding any security, migration or public-health risks associated with visa exempt travelers.

This is particularly true for visa-exempt travelers arriving by land, as the only source of information about them is their travel document presented at the time of crossing the EU external border.

The situation is different for passengers arriving by air as Council Directive 2004/82/EC obliges carriers to communicate all passenger data, known as ‘advance passenger information’ (API), including name, date of birth, passport number and nationality at the time of the check-in for inbound flights to the EU. Another Directive (EU) 2016/681 on the use of passenger name record data (the ‘PNR Directive’) collect 19 types of personal data already at the time of the flight reservation and obliges airlines to hand over to EU MS authorities their passengers’ data linked with the travel reservation (which includes travel dates, travel itinerary, ticket information, frequent flyer data,  contact details, baggage information, credit card and general remarks stored in the Airline files).

For visa-exempt passengers arriving on foot or by car, bus or train, no such comparable advance information is available prior to their arrival.

The changes the proposal would bring

Schengen Border Checks
Prior to arriving in the Schengen area, all carriers will verify if visa-exempt third-country nationals have a valid ETIAS travel authorization, without which boarding will not be authorized. A valid ETIAS travel authorization, should be obtained in advance of arrival at a Schengen border crossing point, and this will be a precondition for entering the Schengen area. However, border guards at the external Schengen borders will still take the final decision to grant or refuse entry according to the Schengen Borders Code.

Online application
As it is currently the case for visa-exempt travelers to Canada “ETA”,  USA “ESTA”  and Australia “ETA” who have to ask for a travel authorization also travelers wanting enter the Schengen area will have to fill in an online application by providing their biographical and passport data, contact details, information on intended travel, and answers to background questions relating to public health risks, criminal records, presence in war zones and previous refusals of entry or an order to leave the territory of a Member State.

At the same time, an application fee of €5, which will go to the EU budget, will be mandatory for all applicants above the age of 18 before their application can be processed.

Processing of applications
The automated processing will be carried out by the central system, which will be in charge of checking data provided by applicants against security databases, such as the VIS, Europol data, the SIS, Eurodac, the  Interpol SLTD database , the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) and the planned future EU “Entry-Exit” system (currently negotiated between the EP and the Council). Personal Data will also be screened against a ETIAS “watch list” (where people suspected to have committed, or be likely to commit a criminal offence will be listed by the EU MS) and against specific risk indicators (irregular migration, security or public- health risks) which will be defined in consultation with an ETIAS screening board.

In the case of a positive hit after the automatic processing, that personal application will be further assessed manually by operators in the ETIAS central unit and in the national units.
In case no risks has been detected a positive response, in a form of a travel authorisation valid for five years (or until the expiry of the passport) will be delivered. In the case of a refusal, a justification will be given and applicants will have the right to appeal.

Authorisation will be revoked or annulled when the conditions for its issuance are no longer met, particularly when it is believed that it was fraudulently obtained or when a new alert for refusal of entry is created in the SIS.

Etias structure
ETIAS will consist of an information system, a central unit and national units.

The information system will be designed for processing applications and will be interoperable with other security databases that ETIAS will be connected. The new system will be managed by the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale information systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA).

The central unit will be part of Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) and will ensure that the data stored in the application files and the data recorded in ETIAS are correct and up to date. Where necessary, it will also verify travel authorisation applications whenever there are doubts regarding the identity of an applicant in cases where the latter’s data produced a match (a ‘hit’) against the stored data during automated processing.
The national units will be responsible for making the risk assessment and deciding on travel authorisation for applications rejected by the automated application process. They will also issue opinions when consulted by other national units, and act as a national access point for requests for access to the ETIAS data for law enforcement purposes related to terrorist and other serious criminal offences.

The role of Europol
Europol will be involved in ETIAS in several ways.
Firstly, Europol’s data related to criminal offences, convictions or potential threats will be compared to those provided by applicants for an ETIAS authorization.
Secondly, Europol will help define ETIAS screening rules by participating in the ETIAS screening board and managing the ETIAS watch list.
Thirdly, Europol will be consulted by the ETIAS national units in case of a match with Europol data during the ETIAS automated processing.
And finally, Europol will be able to consult personal data in the ETIAS central system for the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences (as provided by its mandate).

The Council’s position
In a  document om March 17, 2017 authored  by the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU and covering also the other legislative pending measures connected to ETIAS, a number of compromises are suggested: The Presidency identified other key issues that needed to be clarified and decided upon before revised text proposals could be submitted to delegations. The Presidency therefore prepared a discussion paper on which delegations were invited to comment. The issues outlined by the Presidency related to the division of competences between Frontex and the Member States, the definition of ‘responsible Member State’ as regards the decision to grant a travel authorisation, and the duration of a travel authorization […] With respect to the definition of the ‘responsible Member State’, delegations were divided into two groups, one in favour of the Member State of first entry, as proposed by the Commission, while the other stressed the key role played by the Member State at the origin of an alert triggering a “hit”. The following issues are the “object of extensive debates”:

“– the scope of the regulation;
– the ETIAS watchlist and the screening rules;
– the access to the ETIAS data;
– the interoperability of ETIAS with other systems and databases.”

More recently the Council Presidency has also submitted some possible compromise proposals to the other delegations (docs 8579/17 and 8584/17) and it is more than likely that the EP will be under pressure to launch the negotiations for a first reading agreement on this subject.

The European Parliament position (Libe Committee Debate)
On the EP side works are still at an initial phase (SEE OEIL DOSSIER HERE). The LIBE Committee has been informed for the first time by a Commission representative (Belinda Pyke) on 22 March 2017. It has been stressed that the purpose of the proposal is to improve internal security and border management and that policy visa liberalization is essential in the system. This proposal will contribute to the security of the Schengen area because as any risks will be identified prior to departure. Due to the political pressure of the European Council and the  very tight deadlines 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. The Commission representative made reference to the comparable systems in  Australia, Canada and USA and declared that the ETIAS system will take stock of the experience of these countries by overcoming their weaknesses and mirroring the strengths of these systems.
Firstly, request authorization will be easy and cheap. Applicants will receive rapidly (within 12 hours) a positive feedback and those without authorization will save travel costs. 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 basis of SIS, Interpol, ECRIS, Eurodac.
The ETIAS central unit will compare the data in the database and the identity of the applicant and the rest of the operations will be managed by the national units.
The decision of the 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).
ETIAS will be financially self-sustaining, thanks to the tax that will be paid by applicants. It is estimated that the costs for developing it will amount to €212.1 million, while the average annual operations costs, to be covered by the revenue from fees, will be €85 million.
The data will be protected from abuse and the information may be given to law enforcement only in the case of very serious crimes (this possibility also exist for Eurodac).

The EP rapporteur Kinga Gal (PPE – Hungary) was not present at the debate, but a colleague read her statement. The rapporteur argues that the text is of great importance and 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 until 2020 the countries without visa obligation will increase. For third-country nationals without visa obligation it’s difficult to gather information; it’s therefore necessary to create an information system well established in legal terms, so as not to put excessive burdens for Member States.

The debate that followed, however, showed controversial elements in the proposal, criticized by MEPs.
Firstly, almost all the MEPs who spoke remarked the necessity of an impact assessment, finding it unacceptable yet another lack of it. An issue of such importance can not be studied without taking into account an impact assessment: the urgency can not justify such a lack.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany), for instance, affirmed that she’s tired to listen to the Commission affirming that it’s necessary to adopt better legislation and that impact assessments are not conducted anymore because of urgency. EU needs to regulate well, not in a hurry: this rush to legislate, then, does not make sense if the execution by the Member States is so slow. She also remarked that one of the problems in this proposal is that the form requires a bit of everything and there is the risk that if an applicant forgets a small offense did at 15 years old he cannot enter.

The shadow rapporteur Gérard Deprez (ALDE – Belgium) wondered what professional criteria will be provided for ETIAS units and how it will be possible to apply Article 7 of the Schengen Code, because compulsory systematic checks for everybody (as provided in that Article) would have a significant impact on traffic at the border. Deprez considered that the term of 72 hours is reasonable whereas he considers excessive the term of validity of five years, because in the course of five years many things can change in a person’s life. Also foreign experiences in fact suggest different solutions: in US visa 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. The proposal, in addiction, should define a better balancing of criminal convictions. For example, prison sentences of less than one year should not be an obstacle to the granting of authorization.

It may also emerge 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. The controls are certainly a necessary corollary for visa liberalization, but the parliament should find more efficient solutions.

On behalf of DG HOME of the European Commission Mrs Belinda Pike replied that the validity of five years would be reasonable. Of course it is noted that in the case in which the person commits an offense such information is immediately acquired in the system. Contrary to what Deprez stated, then, the cost is not too low, but it’s instead sufficient to ensure the smart management of borders. It is a fee that will cover the costs and ensures a small gain. In the US half of the fee (therefore, 7 euros) is invested in the tourism sector. Do not pay anything on the other hand would be a huge burden on the EU budget.

Belinda Pike finally stressed that the screening does not immediately lead to the rejection of the request, but simply involves manual handling of the request.

Marie – Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL – France) and Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA – Sweden) highlighted that visas are returned, albeit with a different name (authorization). According to Marie – Christine Vergiat, then, this proposal does not promote cooperation between member states, it is repressive and attacks the fundamental rights, like others in this area of “smart” borders. Security and immigration are matters to be addressed in different texts, because adhere to different problems. The fact that some people should be identified through a profiling system also raises an ethical problem.

Bodil Valero remarked the privacy-issue. People will also provide information on education and health and Greens/Efa group would like to receive explanations about what is the reason for these provisions: perhaps the Commission’s intention is to gather information that cannot be collected in other ways. Furthermore, the 5-year period envisaged for data stocking is too long. She underlined that also the EDPS (European Data Protection Supervisor) has taken a fairly critical position on some of the elements of the proposal.
In his opinion, in fact, the EDPS states, among other things, that the establishment of ETIAS would have a significant impact on the right to the protection of personal data, since various kinds of data, collected initially for very different purposes, will become accessible to a broader range of public authorities (i.e. immigration authorities, border guards, law enforcement authorities, etc). For this reason, the EDPS considers that there is a need for conducting an assessment of the impact that the Proposal will entail on the right to privacy and the right to data protection enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which will take stock of all existing EU-level measures for migration and security objectives.

Last but not least, during a TRAN (transport and tourism) committee on Wednesday 22 March, different speakers representing the tourist sector expressed concerns about the costs generated by the ETIAS in the tourism sector. However, the TRAN Committee decided not to give an opinion to LIBE.

NEXT STEPS

As soon as the two co-legislators will have defined their position a trilogue  could be launched which can bring to an agreement on first reading. As things currently stay an agreement will probably go hand in hand with the other “ENTRY/EXIT” legislative proposal.

 

Parliamentary Tracker : Rule of law in Hungary (LIBE hearing on February 27,2017)

by Luigi LIMONE (FREE Group Trainee)

This BLOG has already published or reblogged  several posts on the worrying situation of fundamental rights and rule of law principle in Hungary. The most recent tense debate of the European Parliament on this issue took place in the presence of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor ORBAN in Strasbourg on April 27. It has been widely relayed by the press (See the video stream here ) and rumors on the possible expulsion of the Fidesz party from the EPP political family have not been confirmed by the facts.

However also the LIBE committee which is in charge of protection of fundamental rights and values follows closely since several years the situation in Hungary and its last hearing on the subject took place on February 27,2017. (see below)

 

Hearing on “The situation of fundamental rights in Hungary”      (27 February 2017)

In June 2016, Hungary’s President János Áder signed into law a package of draconian counter-terrorism measures, including a “sixth amendment” to the Constitution and amendments to laws governing the police, national security services and defence forces. The aim was to streamline the process to declare a state of emergency.

The package entered into force on 1 July 2016. Its measures rely on an extremely vague concept, a “terror threat situation”. This “terror threat situation” gives the executive wide-ranging powers that risk violating Hungary’s international human rights obligations. Such a  vague definition violates the principle of legality, according to which the law is to be formulated in clear and unambiguous terms.

The police, other law enforcement officers and the military are permitted to use lethal force in a “terror threat situation”. In addition, the “sixth amendment” provides for wide scope for sweeping restrictions on the rights to freedom association and peaceful assembly, privacy and freedom of movement.

Hungarian authorities have been particularly aggressive in their attempts to draw a link between refugees and the threat of terrorism. Since 2015, the Hungarian government has taken concrete steps toward keeping refugees out of the country and it has invoked a “crisis situation due to mass immigration”, a distinct state of emergency empowering the police and military forces to “assist” the asylum authorities.

At the same time, amendments to the Criminal Code have led to the criminalization of refugees and migrants who entered Hungary irregularly through its southern border fence, instituting a wide rage of sanctions, including prison sentences and mandatory expulsion.

Eleven people have been convicted for illegal crossing of the border fence aggravated by alleged participation in mass riot. They were part of a larger group of refugees and migrants stranded at the border between Serbia and Hungary on 16 September 2015, the day after Hungary moved to completely close its southern border. All of them, including a blind elderly Syrian woman and a wheelchair-bound Syrian man living with a disability, were alleged to have participated in a mass riot in their attempt to enter the country unlawfully.

In November 2016, one of the eleven, Ahmed H. from Syria, was convicted for committing “acts of terror” and was sentenced to ten years in prison and final expulsion from Hungary. He was found guilty of using a megaphone to request that the police communicate with the refugees and migrants at the border and of throwing objects at them.

According to the government’s chief spokesman, Zoltán Kovács. Hungary will submit proposals to the EU to protect Europe’s borders by automatically detaining any asylum seeker for the whole period of their asylum application. At a briefing in London, Kovács said that anyone seeking asylum through Hungary would be kept in “shelters” for the whole period of their application, even though they would be free to go back to their own country at any point.

As regards the right to privacy, the Hungarian system of surveillance employed by the Anti-Terrorism Taskforce was found contrary to European human rights law by the European Court of Human Rights (see Szabo and Vissy v. Hungary). The taskforce had been given broad surveillance powers, including opening correspondence and reading electronic communications. The Minister of Justice can order such surveillance on any individual on the basis of national security, without prior judicial authorization and without requiring the taskforce to produce any evidence to support its request. The Court concluded that the Hungarian law endowing the Anti-Terrorism Taskforce with these surveillance powers violated the right to privacy, as there were insufficient legal safeguards to ensure protection against abuse.

Faced with this complex situation, on 16 November 2016 the LIBE Committee decided to set up a hearing to present a comprehensive picture on the situation of fundamental rights in Hungary.  The hearing took place on 27 February 2017.

Following the opening remarks by Claude Moraes, Chair of the LIBE Committee, László Trócsányi, Minister of Justice of Hungary, took the floor. He clarified that the Hungarian government had always been open to dialogue and that Europe was facing a phase of deep  uncertainty intensified by the Brexit, the terrorist threat and the migration crisis.

In his opinion, the migration crisis is one of the most serious challenges Hungary is facing, since the country is placed at the external border of the EU. He said that Hungary was taking huge responsibilities to protect the EU borders in an efficient manner. According to him, all the EU institutions and Member States have to put themselves the same goals for an effective protection of the Schengen system. In order to overcome the migration crisis, the EU needs to  fight against irregular immigration as well as migrant trafficking, stop the tendency to mix up economic migrants and refugees and identify safe countries, as in the case of Turkey.

Miklós Szánthó, Director of the Centre for Fundamental Rights, a pro-government NGO,  dealt with the situation of democracy in Hungary and in the EU. He said that democracy, including fundamental rights and the rule of law, still existed in Hungary and that was proven by the existence of a Constitution as well as legal and transparent procedures. In his opinion, there exists no comprehensive definition of democracy within the EU, apart from two   elements which have been affirmed as fundamental marks of democracy, namely free elections and equal division of powers. He said that those elements were concretely realised in Hungary and that the EU, as provided by art. 4(2) TUE, should respect the way in which each Member State interpreted democracy and its values in compliance with its own perception of sovereignty. According to him, only Member States are entitled to frame their own legal framework relating to the protection of democratic values and fundamental rights and the EU should not impose supranational visions on national authorities.

According to Todor Gardos, Researcher at Amnesty International, the European Parliament should continue to put pressure on the Council and ask for clarifications about the situation in Hungary, since a number of serious threats to fundamental rights have been reported in the country over the last few years, such as uncontrolled use of imprisonment, weakness of the judiciary, restrictions on asylum and refugee rights, lack of protection for religious and ethnic minorities. For him, the most urgent threat is linked to the exceptional measures adopted by the government since 2015 with the aim of pushing refugees and migrants back at the Hungarian border with Serbia. Such measures could have extremely negative impact for vulnerable categories and children, which are massively sent to Serbia.

Gardos said that Amnesty International was extremely worried about the situation in Hungary, where refugees and migrants are more and more associated to criminals and terrorists. He mentioned, in particular, the story of Ahmed H, a Syrian national, living in Cyprus, who went to the border fence between Hungary and Serbia to help his parents enter into Europe to find international protection. Ahmed H. was arrested by the Hungarian police. He was accused of committing an act of terrorism, even though some videos have shown that he was just using his megaphone to talk with the Hungarian authorities and invite them to open the border. Hungarian criminal law is becoming increasingly stricter. The government is targeting Hungarian nationals nationals as well, on the pretext of controlling threats to national security and preventing terrorism.

In conclusion, Gardos said that Amnesty International was calling on the European Parliament   to continue to supervise the situation of fundamental rights in Hungary and, if necessary, ask for a visit to Hungary, in order to put pressure on the Hungarian criminal law system, with regard to trial transparency in particular.

Stefánia Kapronczay, Executive Director of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, touched on two basic issues concerning fundamental rights in Hungary:

  1. a) freedom of expression. She said that the Hungarian government was increasingly restricting the national media market and limiting freedom of expression for civil society and NGOs with censorship and sanctions. For instance, several journalists were denied access to refugee camps during the crisis in 2015;
  2. b) the situation of active citizenship in Hungary. She reported several cases of silenced criticism, defamation against journalists as well as civil society activists and stigmatisation of civil organisations. She also said that the government was exercising strict surveillance over active citizenship and civil participation, with regard to NGO foreign funding in particular.

For Marta Pardavi, Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the most serious issue in Hungary right now is the respect for refugee human rights. She noted that Hungary was performing massive returns of migrants to Serbia, on the assumption that the latter was a safe country of origin or transit, and that in 2016 the government had decided to adopt further measures to deter migrants by closing access to protection. As a consequence, asylum seekers and migrants are now stranded in Serbia under inhuman and degrading conditions, since the situation in Serbia is becoming increasingly difficult due to overpopulation of refugee camps. She raised serious concerns over the abuses on migrants by the Hungarian authorities at the border with Serbia. Such abuses have been criticized by Frontex as well, but the Hungarian government has always refused to go into deep examination of what is happening at its border.

Conclusions

Whereas it is true that the Hungarian government has been elected under democratic principles and it should, therefore, be recognised as legitimate, a democratic society should always respect pluralism, human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law.

Like in Poland, a deterioration of the rule of law has been reported within the Hungarian society. The amendments to the Constitution and the new measures adopted by the Hungarian government since 2010 have had an adverse impact on human rights across sectors and have negatively affected the separation of powers, an essential element of democracy and the rule of law. All counter-powers, from the judiciary and the legislative power to media and civil society have been systematically weakened or brought under control of the executive. Most laws are pushed through via fast-track procedures, which bypass democratic rules and limit parliamentary and public debate and stakeholder participation.

The amendments to the Constitution have been introduced to create a favourable framework for the adoption of new measures which risk violating fundamental rights, especially for refugees. The alleged connection between migration and terrorism has led to new discussions concerning the adoption of a new law on detention. For many years, Hungary has been notorious for applying asylum detention very frequently. Actually, since 2015 detention has become the rule and detention measures were justified on the pretext of fighting terrorism and preventing threats to national security.

The Hungarian government has the duty to protect human rights during border control measures and provide access to effective procedures. The adoption of a new law on detention would undermine refugee and migrant human rights and should, therefore, be avoided.  Detention of asylum seekers should be a measure of last resort based on proportionality and  deprivation of liberty should always be accompanied by adequate safeguards, such as individual examination, access to legal aid and the right to an effective remedy.

 

 

 

 

Parliamentary Tracker: LIBE Security Dialogue with Interior Minsters of Germany and France (27/03/17)

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.

European Council (Art. 50) guidelines following the United Kingdom’s notification under Article 50 TEU

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL WEBSITE

On 29 March 2017, the European Council received the notification by the United Kingdom of its intention to withdraw from the European Union and Euratom. This allows for the opening of negotiations as foreseen by the Treaty.

European integration has brought peace and prosperity to Europe and allowed for an unprecedented level and scope of cooperation on matters of common interest in a rapidly changing world. Therefore, the Union’s overall objective in these negotiations will be to preserve its interests, those of its citizens, its businesses and its Member States.

The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the Union creates significant uncertainties that have the potential to cause disruption, in particular in the United Kingdom but also, to a lesser extent, in other Member States. Citizens who have built their lives on the basis of rights flowing from the British membership of the EU face the prospect of losing those rights. Businesses and other stakeholders will lose the predictability and certainty that come with EU law. It will also have an impact on public authorities. With this in mind, we must proceed according to a phased approach giving priority to an orderly withdrawal. National authorities, businesses and other stakeholders should take all necessary steps to prepare for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal.

Throughout these negotiations the Union will maintain its unity and act as one with the aim of reaching a result that is fair and equitable for all Member States and in the interest of its citizens. It will be constructive and strive to find an agreement. This is in the best interest of both sides. The Union will work hard to achieve that outcome, but it will prepare itself to be able to handle the situation also if the negotiations were to fail.

These guidelines define the framework for negotiations under Article 50 TEU and set out the overall positions and principles that the Union will pursue throughout the negotiation. In this context, the European Council welcomes the resolution of the European Parliament of 5 April 2017. The European Council will remain permanently seized of the matter, and will update these guidelines in the course of the negotiations as necessary. Negotiating directives will be adjusted accordingly.

I. Core principles

1. The European Council will continue to base itself on the principles set out in the statement of Heads of State or Government and of the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission on 29 June 2016. It reiterates its wish to have the United Kingdom as a close partner in the future. It further reiterates that any agreement with the United Kingdom will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations, and ensure a level playing field. Preserving the integrity of the Single Market excludes participation based on a sector-by-sector approach. A non-member of the Union, that does not live up to the same obligations as a member, cannot have the same rights and enjoy the same benefits as a member. In this context, the European Council welcomes the recognition by the British Government that the four freedoms of the Single Market are indivisible and that there can be no “cherry picking”. The Union will preserve its autonomy as regards its decision-making as well as the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

2. Negotiations under Article 50 TEU will be conducted in transparency and as a single package. In accordance with the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, individual items cannot be settled separately. The Union will approach the negotiations with unified positions, and will engage with the United Kingdom exclusively through the channels set out in these guidelines and in the negotiating directives. So as not to undercut the position of the Union, there will be no separate negotiations between individual Member States and the United Kingdom on matters pertaining to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union.

3. The core principles set out above should apply equally to the negotiations on an orderly withdrawal, to any preliminary and preparatory discussions on the framework for a future relationship, and to any form of transitional arrangements.

II. A phased approach to negotiations

4.  On the date of withdrawal, the Treaties will cease to apply to the United Kingdom, to those of its overseas countries and territories currently associated to the Union, and to territories for whose external relations the United Kingdom is responsible. The main purpose of the negotiations will be to ensure the United Kingdom’s orderly withdrawal so as to reduce uncertainty and, to the extent possible, minimise disruption caused by this abrupt change.

To that effect, the first phase of negotiations will aim to:

  • provide as much clarity and legal certainty as possible to citizens, businesses, stakeholders and international partners on the immediate effects of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union;
  • settle the disentanglement of the United Kingdom from the Union and from all the rights and obligations the United Kingdom derives from commitments undertaken as Member State.

The European Council will monitor progress closely and determine when sufficient progress has been achieved to allow negotiations to proceed to the next phase.

5. While an agreement on a future relationship between the Union and the United Kingdom as such can only be finalised and concluded once the United Kingdom has become a third country, Article 50 TEU requires to take account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union in the arrangements for withdrawal. To this end, an overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship should be identified during a second phase of the negotiations under Article 50 TEU. We stand ready to engage in preliminary and preparatory discussions to this end in the context of negotiations under Article 50 TEU, as soon as the European Council decides that sufficient progress has been made in the first phase towards reaching a satisfactory agreement on the arrangements for an orderly withdrawal.

6. To the extent necessary and legally possible, the negotiations may also seek to determine transitional arrangements which are in the interest of the Union and, as appropriate, to provide for bridges towards the foreseeable framework for the future relationship in the light of the progress made. Any such transitional arrangements must be clearly defined, limited in time, and subject to effective enforcement mechanisms. Should a time-limited prolongation of Union acquis be considered, this would require existing Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures to apply.

7. The two year timeframe set out in Article 50 TEU ends on 29 March 2019.

III. Agreement on arrangements for an orderly withdrawal

8. The right for every EU citizen, and of his or her family members, to live, to work or to study in any EU Member State is a fundamental aspect of the European Union. Along with other rights provided under EU law, it has shaped the lives and choices of millions of people. Agreeing reciprocal guarantees to safeguard the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal of EU and UK citizens, and their families, affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union will be the first priority for the negotiations. Such guarantees must be effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive, including the right to acquire permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence. Citizens should be able to exercise their rights through smooth and simple administrative procedures.

9. Also, the United Kingdom leaving the Union will impact EU businesses trading with and operating in the United Kingdom and UK businesses trading with and operating in the Union. Similarly, it may affect those who have entered into contracts and business arrangements or take part in EU-funded programmes based on the assumption of continued British EU membership. Negotiations should seek to prevent a legal vacuum once the Treaties cease to apply to the United Kingdom and, to the extent possible, address uncertainties.

10. A single financial settlement – including issues resulting from the MFF as well as those related to the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Development Fund (EDF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) – should ensure that the Union and the United Kingdom both respect the obligations resulting from the whole period of the UK membership in the Union. The settlement should cover all commitments as well as liabilities, including contingent liabilities.

11. The Union has consistently supported the goal of peace and reconciliation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and continuing to support and protect the achievements, benefits and commitments of the Peace Process will remain of paramount importance. In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required, including with the aim of avoiding a hard border, while respecting the integrity of the Union legal order. In this context, the Union should also recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland which are compatible with EU law.

12. The Union should agree with the United Kingdom on arrangements as regards the Sovereign Base Areas of the United Kingdom in Cyprus and recognise in that respect bilateral agreements and arrangements between the Republic of Cyprus and the United Kingdom which are compatible with EU law, in particular as regards safeguarding rights and interests of those EU citizens resident or working in the Sovereign Base Areas.

13. Following the withdrawal, the United Kingdom will no longer be covered by agreements concluded by the Union or by Member States acting on its behalf or by the Union and its Member States acting jointly. The Union will continue to have its rights and obligations in relation to international agreements. In this respect, the European Council expects the United Kingdom to honour its share of all international commitments contracted in the context of its EU membership. In such instances, a constructive dialogue with the United Kingdom on a possible common approach towards third country partners, international organisations and conventions concerned should be engaged.

14. The withdrawal agreement would also need to address potential issues arising from the withdrawal in other areas of cooperation, including judicial cooperation, law enforcement and security.

15. While the future location of the seats of EU agencies and facilities located in the United Kingdom is a matter for the 27 Member States to settle rapidly, arrangements should be found to facilitate their transfer.

16. Arrangements ensuring legal certainty and equal treatment should be found for all court procedures pending before the Court of Justice of the European Union upon the date of withdrawal that involve the United Kingdom or natural or legal persons in the United Kingdom. The Court of Justice of the European Union should remain competent to adjudicate in these procedures. Similarly, arrangements should be found for administrative procedures pending before the European Commission and Union agencies upon the date of the withdrawal that involve the United Kingdom or natural or legal persons in the United Kingdom. In addition, arrangements should be foreseen for the possibility of administrative or court proceedings to be initiated post-exit for facts that have occurred before the withdrawal date.

17. The withdrawal agreement should include appropriate dispute settlement and enforcement mechanisms regarding the application and interpretation of the withdrawal agreement, as well as duly circumscribed institutional arrangements allowing for the adoption of measures necessary to deal with situations not foreseen in the withdrawal agreement. This should be done bearing in mind the Union’s interest to effectively protect its autonomy and its legal order, including the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

IV. Preliminary and preparatory discussions on a framework for the Union – United Kingdom future relationship

18. The European Council welcomes and shares the United Kingdom’s desire to establish a close partnership between the Union and the United Kingdom after its departure. While a relationship between the Union and a non Member State cannot offer the same benefits as Union membership, strong and constructive ties will remain in both sides’ interest and should encompass more than just trade.

19. The British government has indicated that it will not seek to remain in the Single Market, but would like to pursue an ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union. Based on the Union’s interests, the European Council stands ready to initiate work towards an agreement on trade, to be finalised and concluded once the United Kingdom is no longer a Member State.

20. Any free trade agreement should be balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging. It cannot, however, amount to participation in the Single Market or parts thereof, as this would undermine its integrity and proper functioning. It must ensure a level playing field, notably in terms of competition and state aid, and in this regard encompass safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, inter alia, tax, social, environmental and regulatory measures and practices.

21. Any future framework should safeguard financial stability in the Union and respect its regulatory and supervisory regime and standards and their application.

22. The EU stands ready to establish partnerships in areas unrelated to trade, in particular the fight against terrorism and international crime, as well as security, defence and foreign policy.

23. The future partnership must include appropriate enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms that do not affect the Union’s autonomy, in particular its decision-making procedures.

24. After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.

V. Principle of sincere cooperation

25. Until it leaves the Union, the United Kingdom remains a full Member of the European Union, subject to all rights and obligations set out in the Treaties and under EU law, including the principle of sincere cooperation.

26. The European Council recognises the need, in the international context, to take into account the specificities of the United Kingdom as a withdrawing Member State, provided it respects its obligations and remains loyal to the Union’s interests while still a Member. Similarly the Union expects the United Kingdom to recognise the need of the 27 Member States to meet and discuss matters related to the situation after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom.

27. While the United Kingdom is still a member, all ongoing EU business must continue to proceed as smoothly as possible at 28. The European Council remains committed to drive forward with ambition the priorities the Union has set itself. Negotiations with the United Kingdom will be kept separate from ongoing Union business, and shall not interfere with its progress.

VI. Procedural arrangements for negotiations under Article 50

28. The European Council endorses the arrangements set out in the statement of 27 Heads of State or Government on 15 December 2016.

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. Continue reading

PARLIAMENTARY TRACKER : THE NEW PROPOSAL ON SYSTEMATIC CONTROLS AT EU EXTERNAL BORDERS

by Beatrice FRAGASSO (*)

On Friday 7 April,   Regulation (EU) 2017/458  reinforcing of checks against relevant databases at external borders for all travellers crossing the external Schengen borders, including European nationals, has entered into force. It is the latest  but not the last amendment to the Schengen Border Code (Regulation (EC) 562/2006 ): other amendments are currently negotiated in the framework of the so called Smart Border Package (and others will follow in the coming months) such as

-the two proposals on the ENTRY-EXIT System (issues currently debated are i) the scope of the EES; ii) the optimal choice and use of biometric identifiers; iii) the calculation of the 90/180 day- timeframe regarding Member States which do not yet apply the Schengen acquis in full; iv) the conditions under which stamps will still be used on travel documents; v) the transfer of data to third countries and other third parties; vi)the interaction between the EES and the bilateral agreements under which a Member State extends the stay of the third country national concerned for a period longer than 90 days).

-the proposal to create a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) in order for the visa-exempt third country nationals to be authorised to travel to the Schengen Area for short-stay visits following a pre-screening prior to their trip. Such pre-screening should allow the competent authorities to assess whether such travel poses a security or migration risk. However, it should be noted that this authorisation would not grant entry to the Schengen Area, which remains to be decided by the border guards. ETIAS would cover all external border types (air, land and sea).

– the establishment of additional functionalities for the SIS such as the creation of SIS alerts on irregular migrants who are the subject of return decisions; the use of facial images for biometric identification, in addition to fingerprints; the automatic transmission of information on a hit following a check; the storing of hit information on discreet and specific check alerts in the SIS Central System; the creation of a new alert category on ‘Wanted Unknown Persons’ for which forensic data may exist in national databases (e.g. a latent print left behind at a crime scene) and the extension of the scope of SIS for immigration purposes.  (SEE 7644/16 – Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council Stronger and Smarter Information Systems for Borders and Security)

PROCEDURAL ASPECTS :

This latest reform  reinforcing of checks against relevant databases at external borders (Legislative PROCEDURE COD(2015)0307) was proposed by the European Commission (see COM(2015)0670) at the end of 2015 following the Paris terrorists attacks. The Council adopted a “general approach” already on February 25 , 2016 as a basis for a trilogue with the European Parliament and the Commission.

On his side the EP LIBE Committee adopted its Report on 21 June 2016 (A8-0218/2016) . Since then, several technical meetings  and at least three trilogues meetings , (on 13 July 2016, 11 October 2016 and 5 December 2016 ) have taken place. As usual there is no transparency on this kind of legislative negotiations from June 2016 to February 2017 and the only accessible reference is a multicolumn document leaked by Statewatch (dated 8 July 2016). According to that document and other informal sources the main issues debated between the Parliament and the Council were : i) regarding air borders, the extent of the transitional period during which it will be possible to derogate from the systematic checks; ii) the question whether reference should be made in the text to consultation of national data bases to verify that there is no threat to the internal security, etc.; iii) the question whether the scope of cases to be exempted from systematic checks under certain conditions shall be limited to the disproportionate delays (and if allowed by the relevant risk analysis) or would be broaden; iv) The sunset clause which the Parliament wants to be included in the text in order to have the application of this Regulation terminated after a given time.

The Member States pressure on the European Parliament has been particularly strong after  the “informal” meeting of the Heads of State or Government at Bratislava on 16 September 2016 and the result of it (and of the trilogues) has been a compromise wich has been endorsed by LIBE has submitted and submitted to the  European Parliament.

The latter has adopted its position on 16 February 2017 and this  text  is particularly interesting because it shows clearly all the amendments agreed on by the Co-legislator (European Parliament and Council) on the original Commission proposal.. Needless to say, the Council unanimously endorsed the text on Tuesday 7 March, with the only exception of UK, IRL (which can decide to join later) and of DK.

However Slovenia while approving the text confirmed in a separate statement its strong concerns because  “.. checks carried out systematically on all persons crossing the external borders, including those enjoying the right of free movement under Union Law, without targeted checks as a basic principle for efficient border checks and without taking into consideration justified exemptions, is a disproportionate measure in relation to the pursued objective of the change….Additional doubts to the efficiency of the new provisions of Article 7(2) of the Code are related to the possible transitional period for border checks at air borders that are especially vulnerable part of the external borders. The implementation on the scale as specified in Article 7 (2) of the Code will have an adverse effect on passenger flows at external borders as it will also have financial implications for Member States. Slovenia cannot be held ultimately accountable for such outcomes.”

These concerns have been echoed also in a statement of Croatia. The latter is formally a member of the Schengen cooperation but has still to obtain (like Romania and Bulgaria) the Council decision which states that  all the technical tests have been past and internal controls can be suppressed. In practice Croatia is considered still outside the Schengen area and the internal borders controls with Slovenia and Hungary will continue until the Council gives its green light.  For this reason “..the Republic of Croatia regrets that these measures are to be implemented not only at the European Union’s external borders but also at internal borders between Member States fully applying the Schengen acquis and Member States not yet fully applying the Schengen acquis. The title of the Regulation itself implies its application at the European Union’s external borders, not at Schengen borders. For that precise reason, all Member States should have been treated equally. Such a regime will constitute a significant additional burden on the national resources of the Republic of Croatia in terms of the required level of technical and personnel capacities, which could have negative implications for the Croatian economy and the efficient flow of passenger and goods traffic. The Republic of Croatia considers that not even at a symbolic level does such a regime at internal borders contribute to unity in achieving the objectives of this Regulation….”

SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NEW REGULATION AND ECHOES OF THE EP DEBATE 

To have an idea of the impact of the new regulation suffice to remember that in 2014 there has been 60.906.914 Schengen external borders crossings of those 48.792.665 EU citizens.  In the first half of 2016: 26.842.855 passengers, of those 21.385.972 EU citizens.

The new Regulation concerns in particular the Article 7 of Regulation 562/2006, that rules the border checks on persons. Reinforcing the checks against databases at external borders is a response, in particular, to the increased threat of terrorism, and it aims to guarantee the proper functioning of the Schengen area. The new regulation introduces the obligation of systematic checking of all citizens (also EU citizens) at air, sea and land borders on the basis of police databases, such as the Schengen Information System (SIS) or the Interpol database of stolen or missing documents, in view of tracking journeys possibly made for terrorist purposes.

While third-country nationals are already subject to systematic document and security checks against relevant databases upon entry, according to the current legislation EU citizens were subjects to a minimum control based on a rapid and straightforward verification of the validity of the travel document for crossing the border.

The phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, many of whom are Union citizens, has generated the need to reinforce checks at external borders with regard to persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law (i.e. EU citizens and members of their families who are not EU citizens). These new provisions try to face the risks posed by returning terrorist foreign fighters, who have returned to the EU from non-EU countries, exercising their right of free movement.

The regulation introduces a new ordinary procedure for border checking.

The travel documents of persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law should be checked systematically, on entry into and on exit from the territory of Member States, against SIS and Interpol databases for stolen, misappropriated, lost and invalidated travel documents in order to ensure that such persons do not hide their real identity.

Border guards should conduct systematically checks using data provided by the SIS, Interpol database on stolen and lost travel documents, national databases. To that end, the Member States should ensure that their border guards have access at external border crossing points to the national and Union databases.

The EP rapporteur Monica Macovei (ECR – Romania) at the plenary (on 15 February 2017) gave an example of how the control system is supposed to work: the passport will be scanned and, if one of the databases shows information about that person, further analysis will be done on that traveller. She underlined that it will be a fast verification, because border guards will utilise only one interface, that gather all the databases. According to the regulation, such systematic checks of course should be carried out in full compliance with relevant Union law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and should fully respect human dignity.

As an exception to the systematic controls, Member States will be allowed to carry out “targeted” (non-systematic) control to particular cases in which systematic checks at the border would have a disproportionate impact on the flow of the traffic. In these cases, a Member State may decide to carry out those checks on a targeted basis at specified border crossing points. This exemption is allowed just if, on the basis of a risk assessment, it is determined that such a relaxation would not lead to a security risk. Such a risk assessment should be transmitted to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.  In cases where there are doubts about the travel document or where there are indications that such a person could represent a threat to the public policy, internal security, public health or international relations of the Member States, the border guard should consult all named databases.

The regulation provides for adaptations to take account of the problems, mostly of a technical nature, raised by certain member states: at the air borders, for instance, the Member States will be allowed to carry out “targeted” controls over a six-month transition period, once the new regulation enters into force. This timeframe could then be extended for a maximum 18-month period in exceptional circumstances, for instance if airports need to adapt because they do not have the infrastructure to enable them to carry out the systematic controls.

The rapporteur Monica Macovei (ECR – Romania) at the plenary (on 15 February 2017) highlighted the main changes to the Schengen Borders Code. Since now EU citizens have not been checked on entering and leaving the Schengen area and the citizens from third countries are checked only at the entrance, and not in exit. This will change with the regulation: everyone, EU citizens, and non-EU citizens, will be checked both at entry and exit of the EU external border (and not only of the Schengen Area). The rapporteur underlined also the important responsibility of Member States in the regulation’s implementation: Member States should enter data into the EU databases and ensure that the data are accurate and up-to-date and that they are obtained and entered lawfully.

However, the first days of implementation showed some difficulties and inadequacies of the Regulation. As the deputy Tanja Fajon (S&D, Slovenia) had already predicted in her intervention at the plenary (15 february 2017), the first days of implementation produced traffic chaos on some borders, especially on the Slovenia-Croatia one (Slovenia is a member of the Schengen Area, Croatia not yet). Many holidaymakers from Austria, Germany and Switzerland spent hours in queues and during Easter break and summer holidays it will probably get worst.

Tanja Fajon stated that border guards would not have been able to handle the new provisions and that border states would have dealt with queues at the borders. She pointed out that the new rules are characterized by an excessive inflexibility and that they are too unbalanced: they increase security but at the expense of measures user-friendly for all passengers.

And that’s what happened the last weekend on the Slovenia-Croatia borders. Late on Friday Slovenian police suspended the systematic checks of all passengers and continued checking only those from third countries, as the Regulation allows in particular cases in which systematic checks have a disproportionate impact on the flow of the traffic. Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said that Slovenian police would continue with a “softer” implementation of the new regime until the normalisation of conditions at the border. He stated that the new Regulation is “unacceptable” and the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic agreed with him: Slovenia and Croatia will present proposals to the European Commission to change the Regulation as soon as possible.

The debate at the plenary that took place on 15 February shows also other controversial elements in the Regulation, criticized by MEPs.

Sophia in t’ Veld, on behalf of the Alde Group, criticized the lack of impact assessment, as also Ulrike Lunacek (on behalf of Verts/ALE Group) did: they criticized the fact that the Commission didn’t give any proof that the regulation will make EU more secure. In second place, both the groups find it strange that the Commission use as justification for the proposal the Paris attacks, because one of the main shortcomings emerged in that case was that Member States were not sharing information and terrorists were able to cross internal borders without problems.

Then, with regard with legislative text, Alde group would have preferred a risk-based system, proportional and necessary, rather than the default setting of systematic checks. They also would have liked risk assessment at the European level, based on common European criteria.

Furthermore, they pushed for an equal treatment of land, air and sea borders, with no results. It would therefore have been logical to introduce this equivalence, because if everybody is submitted to systematic checks at airports, but there can be exceptions for land and sea borders, obviously a person who wants to escape control will take the car.

However, Alde group is satisfied for the introduction of the limitation of compulsory checks to well-defined databases, rather than the general reference that was included initially (all relevant databases).

Marie-Christine Vergiat, on behalf of the GUE/NGL group, affirmed that her group firmly oppose the regulation, because it represents another stage in the building of Europe as a security state. GUE/NGL affirm that controls will be random because databases will be consulted just in case of doubt about the validity of travel documents and certain categories of person may also be exempted. They consider that this regulation will affect fundamental rights, without the right to the safety being strengthened.

Laurențiu Rebega, on behalf of ENF group, pointed out that under the justification of security they are building huge databases which are beyond any democratic control. Furthermore, they consider unfair and humiliating that States that are not in Schengen will have the same obligations of Schengen States, but without enjoying the same rights.

All the interventions, anyway, highlighted that the Regulation will be useless if Member States keep ignore the system in place and if Member States do not feed information into it and do not check it. Member States should accept that there is an obligation to use the existing system. The parliamentary debate shows also the shared need to improve dialogue between the databases, and interconnectivity between them and the infrastructure responsible for management of external borders, in full respect of the rules on data protection and fundamental rights.

(*) FREE Group Trainee

  1. Statement by SloveniaThe Republic of Slovenia reaffirms its commitment to implement the provisions of the Schengen Border Code (hereinafter the Code) introducing strengthened checks on persons crossing the external borders of Member States, also on those enjoying the right of free movement under Union law. While the purpose of exercising border checks in this manner is expected to deliver an improvement to control of external borders, to increase Member States’ internal security and to prevent terrorism, this will also have other consequences.By this declaration, Slovenia wishes to draw attention to the potential consequences that will follow from consistent implementation of Article 7(2) of the Code.
    The Republic of Slovenia, as a country whose territory is one of the most heavily burdened entry and exit areas enabling access to Member States1, is fully aware of its responsibility of carrying out border control in the interest of all Member States. In Slovenia’s view, checks carried out systematically on all persons crossing the external borders, including those enjoying the right of free movement under Union Law, without targeted checks as a basic principle for efficient border checks and without taking into consideration justified exemptions, is a disproportionate measure in relation to the pursued objective of the change. Additional doubts to the efficiency of the new provisions of Article 7(2) of the Code are related to the possible transitional period for border checks at air borders that are especially vulnerable part of the external borders. The implementation on the scale as specified in Article 7 (2) of the Code will have an adverse effect on passenger flows at external borders as it will also have financial implications for Member States. Slovenia cannot be held ultimately accountable for such outcomes.

    Slovenia also welcomes the intention of the European Commission to assess regularly the implementation of the Code, including the consequences of amended provisions, and propose relevant amendments if necessary.

    Statement by Croatia

    The Republic of Croatia supports the objective of this Regulation. It is of the opinion that implementing the mechanisms established thereunder will help to strengthen and maintain security throughout the territory of the European Union and the Schengen area, and also contribute to the overall control of our border, that is the external border of the European Union. At the same time, the Republic of Croatia regrets that these measures are to be implemented not only at the European Union’s external borders but also at internal borders between Member States fully applying the Schengen acquis and Member States not yet fully applying the Schengen acquis. The title of the Regulation itself implies its application at the European Union’s external borders, not at Schengen borders. For that precise reason, all Member States should have been treated equally. Such a regime will constitute a significant additional burden on the national resources of the Republic of Croatia in terms of the required level of technical and personnel capacities, which could have negative implications for the Croatian economy and the efficient flow of passenger and goods traffic. The Republic of Croatia considers that not even at a symbolic level does such a regime at internal borders contribute to unity in achieving the objectives of this Regulation.

    Nevertheless, the Republic of Croatia remains fully committed to consistent compliance with and implementation of the Regulation, and welcomes the European Commission’s intention to regularly monitor its implementation and propose relevant amendments whenever it deems this possible.

    With a view to ensuring efficient implementation, the Republic of Croatia also recalls the specific situations of certain Member States and invites the European Commission to take steps, in consultation with stakeholders and further to the European Council conclusions of December 2016, to find appropriate solutions to address those specific situations.

    The Republic of Croatia therefore has an interest and is actively engaged in finding ways to mitigate the undesired consequences of the measures introduced on the flow of passenger and goods traffic both at its external border and at its internal land border with the Republic of Slovenia and Hungary. Bearing in mind the Regulation’s objective and benefits for the European Union as a whole and the fact that it enjoys the broad support of Member States, the Republic of Croatia, as a constructive Member State, supports its adoption.

     

The Return of the Sovereign: A Look at the Rule of Law in Hungary – and in Europe

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON VERFASSUNGSBLOG ( 5 Apr 2017 )

by Renáta Uitz (*)

Spring arrived in Budapest with sunshine, magnolias in full bloom, hordes of stag partiers from the U.K. – and a sovereign ready to fight against foreign invaders by legal means. After a lengthy media and political campaign against migrants, foreign influence and George Soros, the Hungarian government resorted to a surgical strike via lawmaking. The first bills of the spring seek to regulate foreign universities and civil society organizations receiving foreign funds with new-found vigor and persistence. This regulatory campaign is launched in the spirit of reclaiming national sovereignty. Were the Hungarian government to succeed in its recent efforts, it may well seriously shatter whatever is left from the rule of law in Europe.

A new law and an alleged bill

On Sunday, April 2, 2017 thousands of Hungarians spent their afternoon demonstrating against the impending amendment of the national higher education law (Act no. 204 of 2011). The amendment became law with the speed of light: the bill was tabled on March 28, 2017 and was passed by the Hungarian Parliament in a procedure of exceptional urgency on April 4, 2017 amidst intense international and domestic protest.

The disputed amendment sought to introduce brand new conditions for the operation of universities accredited outside the EU (foreign universities in the terminology of the bill) in Hungary. According to the reasoning of the Minister of Education who tabled the bill, the amendment aims to regulate third-country (non-EU) universities, as their operation is significant for Hungary’s international relations, and because the movement of scholars and students presents a genuine national security concern.

Among several other conditions the amended law requires foreign universities to maintain a campus in the jurisdiction which has accredited them. The Hungarian government’s concern is that without a campus in the accrediting company, the foreign accreditation agency does not continue to exercise quality control over these institutions. Also, a foreign university may be established solely on the basis of an international agreement concluded by the Hungarian government and the jurisdiction which accredited the institution.

By the time the protesters got home on Sunday, they found out from a news portal that the government appears to have a bill ready to discipline civil society organizations receiving foreign funds. The leaked document which very clearly resemble a bill has not yet been tabled. The idea is to have NGOs which receive more than 7.2M HUF (approx. 24.800 USD / 23.200 EUR) to register themselves with the government as “foreign funded” NGOs. The measure is justified in the name of the fight against money laundering and international terrorism, and is placed in the legal framework of existing rules against money-laundering. According to the preamble of the bill, civil society organizations may be used in Hungary by unknown foreign interest groups to influence Hungarian politics against the interests of the Hungarian people and thus endanger the “influence free operation” of legal institutions.

In the meantime, the self-defending sovereign seeks to gain support to warding off foreign influence in a freshly launched National Consultation. A National Consultation is a direct mailing campaign surveying Hungarian citizens on “important national questions.” (It is not to be mistaken for a referendum or plebiscite.) In this round the government seeks to stop Brussels from abolishing the reduction of utility fees and imposing illegal migrants on Hungary, while it also seeks to enhance the financing of civil society organizations. According to the secretary of state announcing the latest survey“[p]articipating in the national consultation is a strong manifestation of support for Hungary’s independence.”

The legal measures launched in April clearly fit in this rhetoric and mental framework of defending national independence and sovereignty from unwanted foreign influence. But what does this have to do with the rule of law? And why should anyone in Europe care?

Rule of law – rule by law?

The measures discussed in this post fail to meet even the most basic features of how legal rules are envisioned in a rule of law framework. The rules are not general or neutral: they target particular legal entities under the guise of general norms. Although the measures are justified by the need to control harmful foreign influence, they are hardly necessary or proportionate to the aims to be achieved. The manner and speed with which the amendment of the higher education law was passed is antithetical to the most basic premises of legal certainty. These rules single out particular legal entities chosen on the basis of political (in)convenience and subject these target organizations to special treatment serving arbitrary political aims.

The targets of the recent legal measures are organizations which are not government-funded (thus, not government-controlled) and appear to have a  public presence which the government views to be harmful or at least dangerous to Hungarian national identity.

The amendment of the higher education law affects 28 institutions of higher education, out of which 27 do not meet the newly introduced conditions of operation. From the public discourse it transpired very quickly that the primary target of this legislative measure was Central European University, a private graduate university founded by George Soros. Sources in the ruling party regularly referred to CEU in the media as the Soros-university. The parliamentary debate on the bill made it evident that CEU indeed was the target of the measure.

The government’s own communication has made it crystal clear that the leaked NGO bill fits in the Hungarian government’s efforts to rid Hungary of Mr Soros’s philanthropy. In the past few days voices in the ruling party called on the Hungarian government to refuse to pay the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (sic) which had won a major case before the ECtHR challenging the core of ideas of the Hungarian government’s border control measures. This is a mild gesture compared to the political test balloons which suggested that Hungary should exit the European Convention on Human Rights.

In light of the above it would be hard to claim that the newly enacted or the leaked bill contain legal norms of general application. Despite the carefully crafted language of these bills and the conditions they set, it is clear for an observer familiar with the local context that these bills are political instruments targeting very specific legal entities. This is not to suggest that it is per se illegitimate for a government to re-regulate a market sector inhabited by a handful of actors. It is at least curious that e.g. the foreign universities affected by the newly adopted amendment had not been involved in the preparation of the bill, nor had they been invited to participate in the legislative process.

As for the necessity and proportionality of the legal measures against the foreign universities, it is important to note that the operation of these institutions has been well-familiar to the Hungarian authorities. In the heat of the protest against the bill, the Education Authority confirmed that CEU had met the conditions of operation in Hungary under the existing legal framework. Thus, the regulatory impetus and especially the special emergency procedure with which the bill was passed in Parliament are hard to justify even at first sight.

As for the conditions in the amended higher education law, one cannot help but notice that the overwhelming majority of the affected institutions do not meet them at the time of their adoption and would also find it most challenging to comply with them in the immediate future. Under the newly passed amendment they would need to broker an international agreement and open a campus in a second country where they are not present at the moment. This is hardly a coincidence in the case of a bill which affects roughly two dozen institutions which are well-familiar to the very ministry which prepared the bill to re-regulate foreign actors in the education sector.

As for the conditions themselves, the idea that foreign universities can only operate in Hungary based on an international agreement deserves special attention. This condition in and of itself introduces the sovereign to the picture with its might and doubles its weight. It is not only that the sovereign sets a condition, but it also takes the sovereign’s benevolence for a foreign university to be able to meet this condition. If the Hungarian government were not in the mood to compromise with a foreign government on the principles of establishing a university, this statutory condition cannot be met by the organization to which it applies.

Furthermore, a last minute rider to the bill further specified this requirement: for federal entities the Hungarian government is expected to conclude an international agreement with the federal unit in which the university had been accredited, based on the prior approval of the respective federal government. Now, in case such a legal construct (i.e. a state-level treaty with prior federal consent) does not exist in the foreign jurisdiction in question, the condition for the operation of a foreign university set by Hungarian law simply cannot be met.

In brief, these adopted and planned laws are best seen as the decisions of a free-roaming sovereign striking its subjects at will, with the force of the law. This strategy is familiar in Hungary: when a new law on churches was enacted in 2011 to divest hundreds of religious organizations of their legal entity status, the reasons were clearly disclosed in the legislative debate: it is for Parliament, as the representative of the sovereign will of the people, to decide who is a church and who is not. All the Hungarian government learnt since 2011 is that when selecting friends from foes, the sovereign is better off disguising its naked will and political preferences as a national security consideration or a counter-terror measure. Picking on universities and civil society organizations was certainly a smart move: unlike churches the legal entity status of which is considered to be part and parcel of freedom of religion in international and European human rights law, the jurisprudence on academic freedom or the freedom of association is much less developed. As a result, the sovereign may have a broader margin of appreciation to discipline unwanted organizations even in the eyes of a well-meaning regional court.

Why should the EU care?

Recent developments in Hungary have grave relevance for the EU, symbolic and political, as well as constitutional.

It is true that the Hungarian-born U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros has been the favorite villain of the Hungarian government for years, but he is not the only one. The EU comes as a close second. Civil society organizations partly funded by Mr Soros’ Open Society Foundations have received ample criticism as unpatriotic and destructive. The fact that the same NGOs would also accept funds in the EEA scheme (commonly known as Norwegian funds in Hungary) has singled them out for continued governmental harassment for years.

The draft NGO bill comes one step closer to vilifying EU money: when calculating the 7.2M HUF base-line, EU funding which is not distributed by Hungarian public institutions counts as funding of unknown origin. Thus, if an NGO receives funding from EU institutions directly, it is treated as potentially being under the influence of unknown foreign sources (draft NGO bill, Article 1(3)).

The symbolic and political relevance of recent Hungarian events was put succinctly by the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the European Parliament on April 4, 2017:

“… if we want to be a lighthouse in the world for the rule of law and for human rights, then we cannot ignore, when these foundations are shaken in the midst of Europe. Europe, then, must not be silent, when civil society, even academia – as now at Central European University, Budapest – are deprived of the air to breathe.”

These are important words at a time when European political leaders are still indebted to the Hungarian Prime Minister for putting his weight behind Donald Tusk as the president of the European Council. Prime Minister Orbán, as a true European citizen, said that his priority was Europe’s operability, despite the Polish government’s disapproval. It is in this light that the leaders and the members of the European People’s Party (as well as their voters) may wish to consider President Steinmeier’s words.

On the constitutional level, one may see the awakening of the Hungarian sovereign as a testing of the limits of the European constitutional construct, using the leeway given to the member states to define and defend their national identities under TEU Article 4(2). Article 4(2) as part of the script on subsidiarity, a foundational premise of the EU. Foundational as it may be, it competes with forces which pull towards defining and defending a European constitutional core.

So far much ink has been spilled on reconciling national constitutional identity with the premises of the common European constitutional project. It is time to pay closer attention to the national security exception, which Article 4(2) makes the “sole responsibility” of the member states. If used lightly and carelessly, the national security exception can be a much stronger centrifugal force in Europe than cries of constitutional identity could ever be.

It is hardly by accident that these new Hungarian legal measures are phrased in terms of national security and courter-terrorism. They appeal to the constitutional exception in Article 4(2) as well as to the sentiments of those governments which have been targeted by terrorist attacks. Foreign observers and their governments will be sympathetic to such reasons in the age of global terror and will not be ready to suspect foul play when the sovereign speaks the language of the law. After all, many such observers live in countries where charities and private foundations are used by the supporters of global terrorism to channel funds. From there it may be hard to fathom that in other countries the unwanted foreign influence is the one which defends such ideals as the rule of law and fundamental rights from invasions by its very own government. Therefore, it is all the more important that European constitutional and political actors realize: The carefully crafted new Hungarian laws use the cloak of national security to stab the rule of law, as understood in Europe, in the heart.

(*) Renáta Uitz is professor of comparative constitutional law, chair of the Comparative Constitutional Law program and co-director (with Károly Bárd) of the clinical specialization at CEU Legal Studies. She obtained her Doctor iuris degree (with summa cum laude) at Eotvos Lorant University, Faculty of Law in 1996 and received an LLM in Comparative Constitutional Law at CEU Legal studies in the following year. Her S.J.D. (summa cum laude) in comparative constitutional law earned in 2001 is also from CEU Legal Studies. She started teaching at CEU in 2001, and became chair of the Comparative Constitutional Law program in 2007. Her teaching covers subjects in comparative constitutional law in Europe and North America, transitional justice and human rights protection with special emphasis on the enforcement of constitutional rights and on issues of bodily privacy and sexuality. Theories and practices of good governance in and after democratic transition, and the role of courts in constructing the constitutional subject are at the center of her research interests. “Constitutions, Courts and History” (2004) was her first book, while her most recent is “Freedom of Religion in European Constitutional and International Case Law” (2007). In addition she is the author of over 30 articles and book chapters which appeared mainly in English, Hungarian and Russian. She regularly speaks at international conferences on comparative constitutional subjects.