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Speech of Minister Dragutin Mate at the Ministerial Conference on the Challenges of the EU External Border Management

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Dear President of the Committee, Members of Parliament,

On 11 and 12 March the Slovenian Presidency organised a ministerial conference on the future management of the external borders of the European Union. The participants at the conference were ministers of the interior of the EU Member States, ministers of the interior of Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, and two distinguished guests from the United States of America, Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Michael Mukasey, Attorney General.

The basis for the discussion consisted of the communications issued by the Commission on 13 February 2008:

  • The Frontex agency – evaluation and future development;
  • Preparing the next steps in border management in the European Union (entry/exit system); and
  • Examining the creation of a European border surveillance system (EUROSUR).

During the last part of the conference, the American guests presented their experience as regards the surveillance of external borders and passenger checks.

The main thread of the conference was the question of how to develop a technology-supported system of border surveillance in the future. The key goals are effective border control in order to prevent illegal immigration, fast and efficient passenger checks to ensure the accessibility and openness of the Union, and the possibility of control over foreigners who enter the European Union legally and then overstay their visas. The topics discussed at the ministerial conference are extremely important for further identification of ways to improve external border management of the EU.

The first discussion on the Frontex agency confirmed that the agency has successfully completed the introductory period from its foundation up to the present.

The discussion can be summarised in five points:

  1. In the short term the Member States expect Frontex to implement, in its entirety, the work programme for 2008; they also agree that the role of Frontex needs to be strengthened in the framework of the existing mandate.
  2. It would be a good idea to investigate the possibility of establishing special branches to coordinate activities in certain areas where the intensity of activity is highest, e.g. the area of the southern maritime border.
  3. Risk analysis and situation evaluations are tasks that Frontex is already very good at. In the future it should endeavour to perform them even better by cooperating with other organisations, such as EUROPOL, and responsible authorities of the Member States.
  4. The direct role of Frontex and the cooperation of Member States in joint return operations should be strengthened.
  5. In the long run, we need to strengthen cooperation with third countries as regards border management in the context of the implementation of a global approach, and to define and strengthen the role of Frontex.

The second discussion was devoted to future steps in the management of the EU borders to step up control at borders and ensure reliable identification of persons while guaranteeing the openness and accessibility of the European Union, which enables the exchange of values and facilitates economic growth.

Vice-President Franco Frattini presented three concepts or possible information systems:

  • First is an entry/exit system, which would record all third-country nationals when entering and exiting the EU. In this way persons who overstay their residence permits in the EU could be identified.
  • The second concept is an electronic system for authorising bona fide passengers, which would enable bona fide visitors from all third countries to cross the border more quickly on the basis of prior registration on a voluntary basis;
  • The third concept is a system of electronic travel authorisation (ETA), which envisages prior authorisation for entry into the EU area on the basis of prior identification of a person.

What was the outcome of discussion?

First of all, the delegations called for optimal utilisation of the existing and agreed information systems (SIS, VIS and Eurodac).

Most delegations expressed a positive view towards the introduction of new technologies, despite the existence of certain reservations, both technical and substantive, which will have to be resolved prior to adopting a final decision on setting up such a complex system – e.g. ensuring smooth passenger flow at all types of borders (land, air and maritime) and taking account of the human factor in providing efficient border control.

Along with the introduction of new technologies, a high level of personal data protection against abuse should be maintained in the process of collecting, storing, processing and using data.

Further, most states supported a study to be carried out by the European Commission on the feasibility and added value of a system of electronic travel authorisation (ETA).

In the third discussion Vice-President Frattini set out the vision of a common European border surveillance system (EUROSUR), which could be established in three phases by 2013.

In the first phase, national coordination centres for border control would be connected into a communication network.

The second phase would involve joint utilisation of radars, satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and other devices enabling efficient border control.

The third phase would be aimed at integrating all existing and new reporting and intelligence systems, and collecting and analysing their data in order to create a common information-sharing environment, thus allowing border control authorities to utilise these various systems in border surveillance and management.

The discussion showed that the Member States support the EUROSUR project. Moreover, the delegations welcomed and upheld the idea of carrying out a study regarding the key elements of EUROSUR, including the financial implications, to enable the Commission to submit an implementation plan to the Council in spring 2009, during the Czech Presidency.

Furthermore, the Member States believed that, based on national experience and new technologies, an adequate border control system should be developed both at land and at sea, seeking to involve EU agencies (Frontex and other agencies) as much as possible.

At the end, the guests from the United States – Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Michael Mukasey – presented their future border surveillance projects. Their border surveillance will rest on three basic elements:

The first element is preliminary acquisition of data from passengers intending to enter the United States (they plan to develop a system of electronic travel authorisation);

the second element is the requirement to implement “safe” documents (i.e. biometric documents);

and the third element is collection of passengers’ biometric data upon arrival in the United States.

The aforementioned presentation was certainly of great importance to us, as according to the United States the implementation of the new system, which will also apply to EU citizens, is envisaged for 2009.

The fourth element that was pointed out by Attorney General Mukasey is active cooperation of the United States with other countries at the bilateral level in information exchange and implementation of joint measures in the fight against terrorism.

In my opinion, we can be very happy with the outcome of the discussions at the ministerial conference, as it was clear that the Member States support the implementation of ideas which, given adequate technological support, will make the EU a true area of security and freedom, enabling it to remain the leading tourist destination in the world and to increase its economic growth every year.

The Slovenian Presidency is already drawing up conclusions based on the discussion at the ministerial conference, including orientations for further activities in this area, to be adopted at the JHA Council Meeting in June.


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Date: 27.03.2008