Under the Chairmanship of Dragutin Mate, President of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, the EU interior ministers discussed, during a working lunch at Brdo pri Kranju, the development of the second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) and the Proposal for a Council Framework Decision on the use of airline Passenger Name Record (PNR) for law enforcement purposes, which had been put forward by the European Commission in November 2007.
Minister Mate stated: "We had a frank discussion on the current state of affairs as regards the development of the second-generation Schengen Information System. After a year of hard work on the successful SISone4all project, for which I sincerely thank the Portuguese Presidency, further steps should be taken to develop the SIS II project, which remains an EU priority."
The system is being developed as scheduled, although the planned migration from SISone4all to SIS II will partly have to be modified, given that last year the number of countries to be connected to the new information system increased, entailing a certain risk of system instability. This is why, as Minister Mate stated:"…the ministers decided not to take that risk, as the stability of the system and security of the data are more important than fast action. The Commission will therefore develop safeguards – some additional testing will be required as well as a new schedule of preparations for SIS II, which will be confirmed at our formal meeting in late February. In any case, there was agreement that SIS II must be operational by September 2009 at the latest."
As regards further activities, Minister Mate proposed that the ministers draw on the experience gained from the SISone4all project, where the ministers were personally committed to meeting all the deadlines. Thus Minister Mate proposed setting up an informal group of ministers called “Friends of SIS II”, who committed themselves to taking the first steps of system testing together, paving the way for other Member States. "I am happy that my proposal was adopted. The group, which I will chair, currently comprises the interior ministers of Germany, Portugal, France, Czech Republic, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and Austria. Each minister will designate a representative tasked with keeping track of preparations underway in other states and assisting in case of any complications," emphasised Minister Mate and concluded by expressing his conviction that now, through the political engagement of the ministers, this demanding project can be completed in just over a year.
During the working lunch the ministers also discussed the use of airline Passenger Name Record (EU PNR) and expressed support for the project. Minister Mate stated that the Council Framework Decision on the protection of data exchanged by Member States in the fight against terrorism and organised crime and in police cooperation, which will soon be adopted, "opens up the possibility for a secure exchange of such data between countries."
Of course, access to such data will only be possible in cases where it is being verified from which country a third-country national, who is a criminal suspect under investigation, arrived in the European Union. The Ministers agreed that such data can significantly contribute to the investigation of criminal offences, which has been demonstrated by experience in the UK. They further pointed out that a high level of personal data security must ensured. The Slovenian Presidency will now launch a discussion on the proposal at the level of our experts, trying to make as much progress as possible in the discussion.
Minister Mate concluded by saying that he has informed the EU ministers of the interior of the position of the European Parliament, which was presented to him earlier in the week while attending the meeting of the LIBE Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. He added that the Parliament is very interested in being involved in the discussion as much as possible, even if it is only formally consulted and the Council is not bound by its opinion.
"With regard to the fact that this proposal is very sensitive as it affects individual privacy, I proposed that the ministers include the European Parliament in our discussions, which they agreed upon. We anticipate proposals by the Parliament, which we will study and seek to take into account to the greatest extent possible," concluded Minister Mate.