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Speech by Minister Dragutin Mate at the Plenary Session of the European Parliament

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Mr President, honourable members,

It is a pleasure to be here today and take part in such an important debate. Implementing policies in the area of justice and home affairs is extremely important for our citizens. With the progress of our society and development of modern technologies, security has become one of the most important concerns of our citizens. I believe that the representatives of the Council, the Commission and the Parliament share the same goals: to ensure such conditions for cooperation between Member States which will guarantee an adequate level of security for our citizens.

In recent years we have made great progress in cooperation between Member States in the area of security. We strengthened cooperation in the fight against terrorism and improved cooperation within Europol; we have also been developing new work methods in external border surveillance. However, we are faced with new challenges. 

Two years ago we started discussing two legal instruments which would enable a qualitative leap forward. One is the Decision converting Europol into a European agency, and the other the transposition of the Prüm Treaty into the European legislation. With a new legal basis, Europol will be able to respond more rapidly to the changing trends of terrorism and organised crime and will improve its analytical capacities for providing support to Member States, which will contribute considerably to a more effective fight against organised criminal groups and terrorist organisations operating in several Member States of the European Union. The transposition of the Prüm Treaty will enable faster exchange of data between national databases of DNA, fingerprints and number plates.

The German and Portuguese Presidencies invested all their efforts in having both instruments adopted by the end of our Trio Presidency, and according to the programme I presented to your colleagues from the LIBE committee, we are planning to achieve political consensus on both instruments by the end of June. Considering the importance of these instruments, I believe that delaying their adoption is not justified now that we have managed to harmonise them between the Member States and the three institutions.

As for those instruments that have only just started to be discussed, the Presidency is willing to cooperate closely with the Parliament on a case-by-case basis in the spirit of common responsibility for the adoption of these instruments. In this way both institutions share responsibility for the security of EU citizens.

The draft instruments currently discussed by the Council are on the one hand general and intended to combat all types of crime and terrorism. We are mostly talking about procedures for collecting and exchanging data, which also apply to cooperation within Europol. On the other hand, we also discuss instruments that focus on a specific problem or specific criminal activities.

In addition to the proposal on the transposition of the Prüm Treaty and the Decision on Europol, we are also working on measures to prevent unwanted persons from entering the European Union. I made a personal commitment to accelerate the development of the second generation of the Schengen Information System. We are also preparing for the adoption of instruments that will enable use of the Visa Information System as soon as possible. In the field of external relations, we are intensively working together with the Western Balkan countries and Russia in preparing regional organised crime threat assessments (OCTA, South Eastern European OCTA, Russian OCTA).

This month the Council launched a debate on the first one of the two proposals for directives in the field of legal immigration. Following the first meeting of the Council Working Group, which discussed the proposal for a directive on highly skilled workers, the Presidency perceived that there is a broad consensus on the usefulness of the directive. We believe that by continuing the discussion, we could identify key political issues by June and provide the French Presidency with a rather clear picture. It is, however, quite impossible to predict at this moment the pace of the Council's work in this area.

For two years now, the Parliament and the Council have been discussing the proposal for a directive on illegally staying third-country nationals. The debate focuses on a number of specific issues on which there are considerable differences of opinion between institutions. The Presidency will continue to seek agreement with the Parliament, which will enable the directive to be adopted as soon as possible. We must make sure, however, that this directive does not prolong return procedures, thus reducing the efficiency of our policies in the fight against illegal immigration.

In strengthening dialogue with countries of origin and transit, the Council will continue to apply a global approach to migration, emphasising its inclusive and geographically balanced nature and paying particular attention to Africa and the eastern and south-eastern regions bordering the European Union.

The Council actively encourages Member States to contribute to the Centralised Record of Available Technical Equipment set up by the FRONTEX Agency. In the Council Conclusions of September 2007 on further strengthening the southern maritime borders, the Council was of the opinion that FRONTEX should be provided with the necessary resources, including technical contributions, with a view to implementing in 2008 long-term measures regarding maritime patrols at the southern external border. The Member States have already made considerable contributions. FRONTEX, which has been keeping the Council informed on a regular basis, stated in December 2007 that the record included 115 vessels, 27 helicopters, 21 aeroplanes and 392 items of other border control equipment. Furthermore, FRONTEX is following up on work related to the creation of a pool of border guards (Rapid Pool), which is to be available within the framework of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT).


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Date: 31.01.2008