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EU Interior Ministers Reach Political Consensus on Europol and Enhancing the Security of Explosives and Approve the Commission's Mandate to Negotiate with the USA

At today's meeting in Luxembourg, chaired by Dragutin Mate, President of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, the EU interior ministers reached a political consensus on the Council decision establishing Europol. Minister Mate pointed out: "Today's decision represents an extremely important step towards enhancing the security of residents of the EU and beyond. Efforts to harmonise the text of the Decision have been under way since the beginning of the existing Trio Presidency, and the achievement of political consensus was foreseen to take place by the end of the Slovenian Presidency. And we have succeeded." The Decision will replace the Europol Convention, and Europol will thus become one of the EU agencies and will be funded from the Community budget instead of from contributions from the Member States, the cost will remain unchanged. The resolution of all open questions is another great success, in which the guiding principle applied by the Presidency was, in Minister Mate's words, "...making compromises provided that they do not affect the flexibility and operational ability of Europol in the fight against international organised crime." Mate stressed the need for a strengthened European Police Office assisting the Member States in combating terrorism, organised and cross-border crime by providing relevant information and analyses.

The Ministers also agreed on the content of the EU Action Plan for enhancing the security of explosives, precursors and detonators, which had been prepared on the basis of a security assessment concerning terrorism in the EU. The Action Plan details the necessary measures as regards prevention, detection, preparedness and response in the EU. Establishing uniform, and especially sufficient, standards necessary for ensuring greater security of explosives and precursors reduces the risk of unauthorised access and use of these substances. Minister Mate said that this represented the realisation of the commitment set out in the declaration the European Council adopted after the Madrid terrorist attacks, which said that efforts had to be made "to ensure that terrorist organisations and groups are starved of the components of their trade" and that there was a need "to ensure greater security of firearms, explosives, bomb-making equipment and technologies".

After a debate, the interior ministers also adopted a proposal for giving the European Commission the mandate to start negotiations for an agreement with the USA on certain conditions for inclusion in the Visa-Waiver Programme for some Member States. According to Minister Mate "a lot of effort was invested in the harmonisation of the mandate in the first half of our Presidency. The Commission's mandate for talks with the USA on issues that are in the Community's competence has been coordinated by all the stakeholders and is based on a twin-track approach." The negotiations for the inclusion of new Member States in the Visa-Waiver Programme will be able to be conducted simultaneously at the national level on matters of national competence and at the European level in areas of Community competence.

The meeting of the mixed committee at the ministerial level, which in addition to Member States also includes the Schengen countries that are not members of the EU, began with a discussion of the state of play of the second-generation Schengen Information System. The Presidency reported on the establishment of the Friends of the SIS II group, both at the ministerial level and at the level of senior officials. In the competent Council working bodies Slovenia has intensively discussed open questions in connection with the preparation of the key project phase, i.e. the migration from the current SIS one4all to SIS II. Minister Mate said: "The Presidency has a firm goal to follow the set timetable and will continue to act at different levels and encourage the Member States and the Commission to do so. The proposed legislation that the Commission presented at the Council meeting provides a legal basis for the migration from SIS one4all to SIS II and is of key importance; therefore it is essential that an agreement on it should be reached by the end of June."

The Presidency presented the progress that was achieved on the proposal for a Return Directive within responsible bodies of the Council and then at the political trialogue. The trialogue was conducted with members of the European Parliament and representatives of the European Commission on 9 April. The Slovenian Presidency is trying to achieve a uniform position of the Council and do everything it can for all the Member States and the European Parliament to come close to this position. Minister Mate explained: "These meetings resulted in a consensus on the vast majority of the text of the Directive, with the purpose of it being adopted in the first reading, for which the Presidency received a mandate at the February Council. We will continue our efforts to finally harmonise the text within the political trialogue, which will be held on 23 April in Strasbourg, and will then present it in the Council in its entirety." The adoption of the Directive in the first reading before the end of the Slovenian Presidency still remains the goal.

The Ministers discussed the proposal for a Directive amending Directive 2003/109/EC, which would expand its scope of application to include beneficiaries of international protection. In this proposal, which was presented in July 2007, the Commission proposed that the scope of the directive governing the status of long-term residence of third-country nationals be expanded to include beneficiaries of international protection. Thus persons with refugee or subsidiary protection status could obtain the status of long-term resident in a Member State after five years and could move freely throughout the EU. The discussion showed that there were still essential differences between the Member States regarding the issues dealt with in the proposal for a directive. Therefore the Presidency will prepare a proposal of a compromise and present it to the Council in the next few weeks.

During a working lunch the ministers acquainted themselves with the current status of talks with the USA on the electronic travel authorisation system and on the future work of the high-level group on data protection. They were also briefed on the outcome of the discussions at the EU-US ministerial meeting on justice and home affairs and conclusions of the High-Level Advisory Group on the Future of European Home Affairs Policy meeting.


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Date: 18.04.2008