Speech by Dailis Alfonsas Barakauskas, Minister of Interior, at the European Parliament, Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

17 December 2013, Last updated at, 17:48 EET
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author: eu2013.lt

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to speak. Honourable members of the European Parliament and the Committee. I will take up where my colleague, the Minister of Justice, left off, and will present our Presidency’s main achievements and results in the area of home affairs.

But I would like to start by giving sincere thanks to the EP, your Committee, and all the rapporteurs for the constructive and, above all, productive cooperation.

I would like to start with horizontal questions, mainly – the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

In the area of home affairs, we have been harmonizing four regulations. For the entire half-year, we have been having a very intense schedule of negotiations/trilogues. I’m glad that we have reached an agreement regarding both financial instruments of the Internal Security Fund; we are also very close to agreeing on the remaining two regulations.

Therefore, using this opportunity, I would like to ask you, honourable members of this committee, to do everything that the final agreements on the home affairs financial regulations could be made in the course of this week. This would allow us to begin the financing in the area of Home Affairs as early as possible in 2014.

As my colleague mentioned, following the European Council’s assignment, we began discussions at the Council regarding the future strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs. I do not want to repeat our achievements, but I need to mention that the majority of Member States see a need to harmonize the future political programme with the financial cycle.

Furthermore, when setting strategic political priorities for justice and home affairs, the EP's role and contribution are very important. It is clear that the European Council's strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs (to be adopted in June) will have to reflect the common position of the Council, Parliament, and Commission.

One of our Presidency’s priorities for the creation of a credible, growing, and open Europe was the effective protection and management of the EU’s external borders. In order to achieve this goal, we spent a lot of time at the Council analysing the smart borders package. External border management should ensure a simple and effective crossing of external borders, and create more favourable travelling conditions for third-country nationals. The control of external borders should also become an effective means for tackling crime, for example, terrorism, illegal migration, and cross-border criminal activities, and, therefore, strengthen the Union's internal security.

The Council's Working Party on Frontiers has completed the first reading of a proposal regarding an Entry Exit System. Therefore, the next presidency can continue the work on the basis of the updated text.

The Council has also analysed the majority of the articles of another legislative initiative of the smart borders package - the Registered Traveller Programme. The remaining questions will be forwarded to our TRIO partners, the Greeks.

Another very important legislative initiative in the area of borders is a regulation establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by Frontex. I think that this instrument should become an effective measure that will contribute greatly to the improvement of the situation in the Mediterranean Sea. I am glad that at COREPER II last week we reached an agreement on a common approach, which mandated to start negotiations with the EP. It is great that the first informal trilogue took place today. I hope that we can find a compromise regarding this legal act quickly and smoothly.

Within this context, I would also like to say that in order to prevent tragedies like that near Lampedusa in the future, together with the Commission we set up a Task Force for Mediterranean which, working on the European Council’s mandate of 24–25 October, performed a thorough analysis of the disaster’s reasons and proposed a plan for priority actions to manage and improve the situation. We hope that this week the European Council will approve the plan.

Another priority of the Presidency was legislation in the area of legal migration. It is encouraging that we have managed to agree on the Seasonal workers Directive. Its implementation will prevent the abuse of seasonal workers that are not EU residents, and also create instruments for incentives and prevention which will help to ensure that the temporary presence of such workers in the EU would not become permanent.

We have also reached a considerable progress in negotiations regarding the Directive on intra-corporate transferees. I hope that the progress of the last six months will serve as a good framework to continue and reach an agreement during Greece's Presidency, because highly-qualified workers can contribute significantly to economic and social growth in the EU.

The proposal for a Directive on students and researchers is very complex as it encompasses various areas of social life. Hence certain important provisions of this Directive require further discussions at the Council.

During the Presidency, we have also continued the work regarding EUs response to migratory pressures faced by the Member States. The Council has dedicated much attention to the problems of Syrian refugees and the Lampedusa tragedy. This half-year, we have continued migration dialogues with third countries. Negotiations regarding a mobility partnership with Tunisia have been completed; and a few days ago a joint declaration on a mobility partnership with Azerbaijan was signed at the Justice and Home Affairs Council.

Speaking about the Schengen Area's issues, I would like to focus on two things. In December, the Justice and Home Affairs Council adopted the Council Conclusions (drafted on Lithuania's initiative) on alerts pursuant to Article 26 of Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006 on the establishment, operation and use of the SIS II. We hope that the implementation of these conclusions will improve the quality of data entered into the SIS, and allow for the more effective application of political sanctions to limit third-country nationals' access to the Schengen Area.

The Council also returned, in our opinion, to the very important matter of the full application of the provisions of the Schengen acquis in the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania.

Taking into consideration the Council’s prevailing position, Lithuania proposed discussing the expansion of the Schengen Area using the principle of gradual border control removal. Unfortunately, during the preparation for the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in December, it became apparent that the unanimous agreement needed for this decision was unattainable at this stage.

After discussing the matter at the Council, a joint declaration of Bulgaria and Romania was included in the minutes, and it was indicated in the conclusions that the Council would address the issue again at its earliest convenience with a view to considering the way forward on the basis of a two-step approach.

I would now like to turn to the issues of internal security and anti-terrorism.

We have intensively analysed a draft Europol regulation. We have completed the first reading, and prepared a compromise text for several sections of the regulation. The compromise text will be the basis for future work.

In June, the majority of Member States stated at the Council that the Commission's proposal to merge Europol and CEPOL wasn't justified or purposeful enough, and asked the Commission to reconsider. The Council hasn’t returned to this issue, and it was decided not to discuss the regulation’s provisions related to the merger and training.

But I would like to say a few words regarding CEPOL separately.

As you know, the UK decided not to prolong the agreement on CEPOL’s headquarters in Bramshill from March 2014. Therefore, Lithuania, Presiding over the EU Council, had to react quickly to the situation and look for a solution that would ensure the smooth continuation of CEPOL's operation.

On 8 October, at the Justice and Home Affairs Council, a joint agreement of Member States was reached to move CEPOL’s headquarters to Budapest, Hungary. I have been informed that yesterday my colleague, the Hungarian Minister of the Interior, has provided you with a comprehensive information on this matter.

On the basis of this agreement, on 13 November 25 Member States submitted a legislative initiative to revise Article 4 of the Council’s decision regarding CEPOL. As you know, this legislative proposal has to be adopted by a co-decision of the Council and Parliament.

I am convinced that guaranteeing the continuous functioning of CEPOL is in our common interests. That is why I believe in the Council’s and Parliament's constructive cooperation on this issue, and hope that an agreement will be reached in April at the latest.

Another legislative proposal in this area which is important to the majority of Member States is the EU Passenger Name Record Directive. PNR data is very important for preventing and combating terrorism and serious crime., Hence increasing number of Member States have started implementing national PNR systems. Obviously, coherent regulation at the EU level is needed to ensure effective police cooperation, and to set adequate data protection measures. I truly hope that these factors will be evaluated properly, and that a decision will be made to start negotiations on this important directive.

During the Presidency, we have also focused on the currently very important issues of cyber security and fighting cyber crime. At the Council, an agreement was reached regarding a supervision mechanism for the EU cyber security implementation process. Cyber security issues have been discussed during various events of the Presidency, as well as at bilateral meetings with strategic partners.

In the area of anti-terrorism, at the beginning of December the Council discussed the issue of foreign fighters and returnees, in particular with regard to Syria. The Council agreed to concentrate activities in this area on prevention, exchange of information/identification of travelling routes, criminal justice response, and cooperation with third countries as soon as possible. And I would like to stress that the Council highlighted the need to focus on the creation of a EU PNR system and the intensive use of available national PNR systems and SIS II in order to effectively monitor and track the routes of foreign fighters.

Mr. Chairman, honourable MEPs, thank you for your attention and constructive cooperation during the Presidency.

Now, I and my colleague, the Minister of Justice, are prepared for your comments and to answer any questions.

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