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Speech by the Slovenian Minister of the Interior’s before the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE)

Slovenian Minister of Internal Affairs Dragutin Mate talks in front of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee of the European Parliament  

Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament, fellow Ministers,

We are four days away from concluding Slovenia's Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Given that this is also the end of the term of office of the German, Portuguese and Slovenian Presidency trio, I have suggested that my two colleagues from Germany and Portugal join me, so we can together discuss the work done under our joint Presidency.

When I first met my two colleagues during the preparation of our joint programme, we were still in the process of ratifying the Constitutional Treaty. It is actually this Treaty which stipulates that the Council should be presided by three countries. However, the constitution left the actual arrangements for this cooperation to the Council.

The initial plan was to have the Presidency Trio preside on the basis of the Constitutional Treaty. We therefore agreed between ourselves that we would jointly draw up a joint eighteen-month plan and establish ways of cooperating. The latter arrangements involved close consultations between the three sides with the aim of making the most of our eighteen-month Presidency.

Perhaps you yourselves will tell us, later, whether the transition between Presidencies has been faster and more effective. I believe it has. One thing at least is clear: in the space of a year and a half, we have achieved three major joint priorities: we have adopted decisions on Europol, Schengen expansion and the Prüm Convention. If we had not worked together as a trio, we would not have been able to achieve these results.

If you permit, I should like first to outline some of the key dossiers of the Slovenian Presidency and then give the floor to my colleagues, who will present our joint achievements.

In the area of legal migration, in the Council working party we completed two readings of both directives – the Directive on highly-qualified workers and the Directive on the unified status and rights of migrant workers. Our aim was to examine the text and identify key issues. That has been achieved, I believe, and now we can leave the task of finding compromises to France. These are two important acts that will contribute to the development of legal migration in the EU and shape the future development of its labour market.

As for illegal migration, we focused on the 'Return Directive'. I am glad, from a personal point of view, that we have adopted this Directive. However, I respect the standpoints of those that disagree with it. I salute the Commission's decision to present the genuinely positive aspects of this Directive which was, in my opinion, interpreted in a very one-sided way by one section of the public. I think that some parties kept forgetting that the Directive sets only minimum standards, and that Member States will regularly make use of the option of enhancing these standards in their national legislation. This Directive certainly represents the first step towards a new EU policy, which will be developed further in future.

This Directive was a political success for the European Community and for collective working methods. Let me once more re-affirm my certainty that the Directive would not have existed if it had not been for Parliament and the co-decision procedure, given that the Member States were unable to reach a compromise. Only pressure from Parliament obliged certain parties to accept the compromises.

As for our global approach, we focused on concluding agreements on mobility with Moldova and the Republic of Cape Verde. These two agreements are the precursors of what agreements between the EU and non-EU States on circular migration will become. Some time will pass before we get to that stage, but let us start with these two pilot schemes and count on other non-EU countries to follow this lead.

We wanted to pave the way for developing our external border policy in coming years. We organised a ministerial conference to discuss the development of Frontex, potentially developing a database for registering the entry and exit of non-EU nationals into and out of the EU, and the use of technologies to protect the external border by land and sea (EUROSUR). This provided the basis on which the Council adopted conclusions at its June session which will serve as guidelines in future.

On visas, we focused chiefly on resolving the problems associated with expanding the visa-free regime with the USA. The complications that surfaced unexpectedly in January and February were handled as expeditiously as possible to avoid generating tensions between the EU and the United States or between old and new States within the EU. In this situation, too, we had to negotiate a course that took account of the United States' right to negotiate with each individual country on access rights for its nationals as well as the EU standpoint that joint negotiations were possible in respect of a joint visa policy. As you know, we managed to get the proceedings on the right track and negotiations are already under way. We expect at least three to five States to enter into visa-free arrangements with the United States by the end of 2008.

Speaking of the USA, I must mention the work of the High-Level Contact Group for the Exchange of Personal Data. During our Presidency, the group achieved a major step forward and managed to harmonise 12 joint principles in the comparison of the European and American models of data protection. We know that many committee participants expressed serious reservations about our data being safe and protected in USA. Such doubts could not be eliminated until we had an overview of the differences and similarities between our two systems. The end result of the group's work shows that the key difference lies in the fact that the USA does not ensure equal judicial redress to residents and to foreigners. This difference was pointed out during discussions with our American colleagues and we emphasised, firstly, that any negotiations will have to be based upon equality between European citizens and American citizens and, secondly, that the European Parliament would be involved in the negotiations. If you have read the Joint Declaration adopted at the EU-US Summit in Slovenia, you will have seen that the Americans agreed. This was the basis on which we tasked the group with pursuing its activities and completing the groundwork for the start of negotiations. In this project, I, of course, count on the Commission and future Presidencies to report to Parliament on the group's activities, since the support of this House is extremely important.

I must also mention the development of the new Schengen Information System. In technical terms, it is an extremely challenging project. The greatest problem is that each Member State has its own national information system, and that they all have to link up with SIS II without losing any information whatsoever from SIS I. As you know, on 5 June the Council confirmed the new timetable for the realisation of SIS II, which is by September 2009. This timetable is realistic but it involves some activities that are always hazardous. We believe that all the Member State experts will do their job properly and that the project will succeed. We have established a 'Friends of SIS II' group incorporating the States that will be especially involved in the overall system tests and, when necessary, providing help to others.

On police cooperation, let me first mention the political agreement on the Decision establishing Europol. Agreement was reached on the Decision in line with a timetable that enables Europol to become an EU agency in 2010. In this matter, too, every month is significant, as the next trio will have to harmonise over 80 legislative acts related to Europol to ensure financing under the Community budget. Europol will now develop faster and adapt to the development of organised crime. Meanwhile, during our Presidency, we have strengthened cooperation between Europol and the regional centre for police cooperation in Southeast Europe, the SECI Centre. This has laid the basis for transferring EU security standards to the Western Balkans, which is important the security of us all.

On terrorism, we focused on adopting the Action Plan for enhancing the security of explosives. This plan provides for a number of measures enabling the production of raw materials and substances used to made explosives to be tracked. We also worked on transferring EU recommendations on combating terrorism to the Western Balkans.

Let me also briefly mention the agreement on the Critical Infrastructure Protection Directive. With this Directive establishing a basic level of cooperation between Member States, we have opened up another area that will have to be developed further in future.

Thank you.


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Date: 26.06.2008