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Ministers Mate and Šturm consult with U.S. representatives on Visa Waiver Program, border security, Western Balkans and mutual legal assistance agreements

The presidents of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, Dr Lovro Šturm, Slovenian Minister of Justice, and Dragutin Mate, Slovenian Minister of the Interior, chaired the justice and home affairs ministerial Troika meeting with representatives of the United States of America today. Besides the two ministers, the EU was represented by Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner responsible for justice, freedom and security, and Brice Hortefeux, French Minister of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-development, as a representative of the next presidency. The American delegation was led by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.

Minister Mate said: "Today we hosted a very important meeting between the European Union and representatives of the United States, during which we discussed, among other topics, the issue of visa reciprocity and the reform of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Our goal is for all EU Member States to be included in this programme as soon as possible, so that all EU citizens can travel to the United States without a visa, just like U.S. citizens, who do not require a visa for any of the EU Member States. In negotiating with the United States, Member States must take into account common guidelines, for they draw the line between EU competences and national competences, which should be respected by both sides." The United States' decision to conduct bilateral negotiations with Member States, including the elements that are exclusively within the competence of the Community, was an issue of collective concern for the EU. The Commission has performed an analysis of competences, prepared a proposal for a mandate for negotiations with the United States and submitted it to the Council for adoption. According to Minister Mate, "Cooperation will be required in searching for the best solution, which will satisfy the requirements of new U.S. legislation and will be in accordance with EU law." The presidency suggested that it could engage, together with the Commission, in exploratory talks with the United States on the shape and content of the electronic system of travel authorisation (ESTA).

As for border security and migration, the conclusions of yesterday's ministerial conference on the challenges of the EU external border management were presented. Proposed measures in relation to the Frontex agency were put forth, along with the use of new technologies and the positive stance adopted towards the introduction of the entry-exit system, personal data protection, support for the European Border Surveillance System project, and a study to analyse the feasibility of an electronic system of travel authorisation. The newly begun dialogue on the conditions for fully lifting the visa regime with Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania was presented.

In the area of justice, Dr Lovro Šturm presented to the American side the ratification procedure of the agreements on mutual legal assistance and extradition in the Member States. The agreements were signed on 25 June 2003, but have not yet been ratified by the United States or all EU Member States. "The Member States have indicated that the procedure for the entry into force of the agreements will be completed by the end of this year. We hope that the entry into force of these agreements will bring progress to mutual cooperation between the EU and United States in criminal matters, thus opening a new chapter of good cross-Atlantic cooperation," Minister Šturm said. The extradition agreement defines the criminal offences that can result in extradition and makes possible the temporary surrender of a person so that criminal proceedings can take place in the country to which the person is surrendered. It also enables a procedure of simplified extradition, provided the person concerned agrees. The agreement on mutual legal assistance governs the transmission of data on bank accounts and transactions, the possibility of establishing joint investigative groups and the use of modern telecommunications between the responsible bodies. It was agreed that Eurojust would organise a meeting of experts from the United States and EU Member States, with the purpose of effectively implementing the agreements and exchanging experience.

The ministers also discussed cooperation between police forces and other law enforcement agencies in the Western Balkans. In Minister Mate's words, "The exchange of information in the fight against organised crime in the Western Balkans has been a priority of both the EU and Western Balkan countries for several years. The Slovenian Presidency is convinced that the security situation in the Western Balkans affects security in the EU. For this reason the Slovenian Presidency is devoting great attention to enhancing security in that area, which is reflected in our proposal that a regional threat assessment for the Western Balkans should be drawn up to help these countries recognise common priorities in the fight against organised crime in the region." The cooperation should focus on improving data exchange and on gradual transfer of good practices from the EU to the Western Balkan region.

The ministers also discussed preventive measures against terrorist recruitment and radicalisation. They agreed that there was a need to set up preventive mechanisms to deter the development and spread of terrorism. Recruitment and radicalisation are among the basic aspects of international terrorism. The EU and United States consider terrorism as one of the priority security challenges, especially in international cooperation. The participants also touched on the European Commission's measures to reduce the risk of distribution of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear substances. The basic areas the European Union will focus on in the future are: prevention and protection, strengthening analytical capacities and security issues as regards biological research, improving control standards and eliminating harmful consequences.

At the close of the meeting, the French delegation will present the priorities of their Presidency of the EU Council, which starts on 1 July 2008.


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Date: 14.03.2008