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21st May 2022

EU leaders want tighter border controls

  • Some 239 specific EU laws and policies that have been adopted in the name of counter-terrorism since 11 September 2001. (Photo: EUobserver)

EU leaders at a summit on Thursday (12 February) agreed that there should be tighter controls at the EU's borders and urged MEPs to move forward on an air passenger information bill.

Governments want to grant police access to the personal details of everyone flying into and out of Europe as a part of larger dragnet of surveillance efforts to find potential terrorists.

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  • Tusk: 'We will co-operate together to face this threat, not with emotion or over-reaction, but with calm and determination' (Photo: European council)

“What is needed most is agreement on the exchange of passenger records within the European Union. We need this soon,” EU council president Donald Tusk told reporters in Brussels.

Fifteen member states have or are in the process of setting up their own national passenger name record systems, co-financed by the European commission.

Passenger name record (PNR) defenders say a EU-wide legislative framework is needed to ensure data protection safeguards are maintained instead of entrusting national governments with an ad-hoc system.

The European commission proposed a EU passenger name record bill (EU PNR) in 2011 but has been met with resistance from the parliament’s civil liberties committee.

MEPs earlier in the week agreed to break the deadlock on EU PNR so long as privacy rights are not violated and want the bill to become law before the end of the year.

Tighter border control checks on travel and ID documents of EU nationals leaving or entering the EU are also on the cards as leaders called for the European commission to revise the so-called Schengen border code.

Most top EU officials, prime ministers, and others have latched onto the Paris attacks in January to push through the crime fighting measures as soon as possible.

The EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, at a European Parliament civil liberties committee in late January, told MEPs to "never let a serious crisis go to waste”.

Kerchove was referring to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo that left 17 people dead and an outpouring of grief and solidarity with the victims throughout much of the world.

"We will safeguard our common values and protect all from violence based on ethnic or religious motivations and racism," said the summit leaders in a joint-statement.

Existing tools

But civil liberty defenders warn of a power grab by governments and law authorities for the sake of creating a perception of greater security.

The point was driven by one EU-funded study that found that out of the 88 legally binding rules in the EU counter-terrorism portfolio, 50 had yet or are not fully transposed into national law as of 2013.

Some 239 specific EU laws and policies that have been adopted in the name of counter-terrorism since 11 September 2001.

The European commission, for its part, backs the EU PNR plan but also has suggested member states would be better off implementing existing tools rather than introducing even more.

“Can we say to our citizens that we need yet another monitoring mechanism to fight against radicalisation and extremism; or do we just need to better use the existing and recently established tools?” said EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans in a speech on Tuesday.

The summit’s counter-terrorism agreement acknowledged a lack of operational cooperation and information sharing among judicial and law enforcement authorities among not only themselves but also with the EU’s police agency Europol and the EU’s judicial cooperation body Eurojust.

A leaked council document in January found Europol receives 80 percent of its data from only four member states.

MEPs break deadlock on airline passenger bill

Police are a step closer to gaining broad access to the personal details of anyone flying in or out of Europe after EU lawmakers on Wednesday agreed to break a deadlock on a stalled EU bill.

Hungary turned into 'hybrid regime', MEPs say

The new draft European Parliament report is an update to the 2018 report which triggered the Article 7 procedure against Hungary, a sanctions probe aiming to rein in member states that break EU rules and values.

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