Monday

22nd Jan 2018

EU ministers call for more border checks

  • Talk of stricter border checks has intensified after the Paris attacks (Photo: state.gov)

EU interior ministers meeting in Riga on Thursday (29 January) have called for more border checks to fight terrorism in the wake of recent attacks in France and Belgium.

The ministers want to change the rules governing the passport-free Schengen area to allow for "systematic checks against databases relevant to the fight against terrorism" when people enter and exit the area. Currently such checks can only be carried out on an ad hoc basis.

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EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos noted that changes for faster data exchange within the Schengen system have already been adopted and that checks are currently possible, too.

"We need first of all to strengthen existing instruments. We already have many important tools in place. Now is the moment to enhance them even more," Avramopoulos said.

The EU commission has taken a cautious stance on new measures in the wake of the Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher store that left 17 people dead, as well as the foiled terrorist plot in Verviers, Belgium.

But Avramopoulos agreed that member states need to improve their data exchanges. "Europol needs to receive all relevant information in order to track the travel routes of terrorists," he said.

He was also evasive on a call for the establishment of a European passenger name record (PNR) system like the one used in the US - where personal data would be collected and stored for each person who flies in and out of Europe.

The project has been blocked by the European Parliament over data privacy concerns.

"We know that the parliament had issues. I also know that a compromise must be reached, but the topic itself is pressing and we are urging for a conclusion," said German interior minister Thomas de Maziere after the meeting.

Ministers also want to increase cooperation with companies like Facebook, Google or Twitter, which are sometimes used by jihaddists to spread their message.

Again, Avramopoulos said this can only be done on national level and that at EU level the dialogue with these companies has only just started.

As for the European Commission, ministers said it needs to present a revamped security strategy "by mid-April 2015 at the latest" given that more than 3,000 Europeans have joined Islamists fighting in Syria and Iraq and 30 percent of the recruits have returned to Europe.

The ministers also discussed with Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus - six eastern European countries who are part of the Eastern Partnership project - ways to cooperate on judicial matters and law enforcement.

“It is more important than ever to be united, to rely on one another and to discuss mutual support. We are experiencing security crisis in Ukraine, which poses also a threat to EU’s security. Therefore, our close cooperation, sincere dialogue and trust is of utmost important,” said Latvian justice minister Dzintars Rasnacs, who chaired the meeting.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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