Harlem Désir: ‘We urgently need an effective PNR system’

Harlem Désir [Axelle Lemaire/Flickr]

France is pushing to accelerate the adoption of the European Passenger Name Record (PNR). The French Minister of State for European affairs urged MEPs to support the bill, and to reach an agreement by the end of the year.

A former MEP and first secretary of the French Socialist party, Harlem Désir is currently France’s Minister of State for European Affairs.

Désir spoke with EURACTIV France’s Editor-in-Chief, Aline Robert.

How can we make quick progress on the PNR?

Europe is facing an unprecedented terrorist threat. On 13 November, France suffered an attack, both physically and against its values. But the whole of Europe has been affected by this same terrorism, which has struck Copenhagen and Brussels, and is a threat to us all, as the attacks in Tunisia, Egypt, Beirut and Bamako, and the downing of the Russian plane in Egypt show.

It is urgent that we implement the road map adopted by the European Council on 12 February, after the attacks in Paris in January this year. This is what the justice and interior ministers stressed at their meeting in Brussels on 20 November. Discussions focused on four key areas: fighting weapons trafficking, strengthening the external borders of the Schengen area, tackling the financing of terrorism and the rapid adoption – we want to see an agreement before the end of the year – of the European PNR.

I went to the European Parliament on Tuesday (24 November) to meet the leaders on this subject, in particular the rapporteur Timothy Kirkhope, and to underline to them the urgent need for the European Parliament’s support for the adoption of this directive. We need this to give European police services access to air passenger records.

In the fight against international terrorism of the Islamic State, which attracts and enlists “foreign fighters” from Europe and sends them to their command and training centres in Iraq and Syria, the PNR is an indispensable tool.

What can this tool bring concretely?

An effective, working PNR system has three basic requirements: intra-European flights need to be included in the European PNR; details of national, as well as international crimes, should be recorded for consultation by the security services; and the data should be kept for at least a year to make them useful to the security services. Data protection guarantees are important, and we share this concern with the European Parliament.

The draft directive already contains some guarantees, and we are prepared to strengthen them, for example by placing a data protection officer at each Passenger Information Unit, or by ensuring that the civil servants that use the information from the PNR are trained in the rules of data protection.

In the current climate, European citizens cannot understand why this agreement should be blocked. It is an emergency, and the PNR is a prerequisite for our collective security and the credibility of the European Union. I invite the European Parliament to become an actor in European security.

Jean-Claude Juncker mentioned a European border guard service. Is France prepared to contribute to this?

Absolutely. France has supported this proposal since the inauguration of President Juncker. At the European Council on 15 October, the president proposed to strengthen controls at our external borders, and we agree on the need to work towards creating a European border service.

First and foremost, the Frontex Regulation needs to be revised to broaden the agency’s mandate and increase its powers. In the long term, member states should also provide a reserve of border guards, ready to intervene for any member state that is facing an emergency in its Frontex operations.

France has already announced that it will make 60 agents available to Frontex. These will largely go to help run the “hotspot” refugee reception and registration centres in Greece. To protect the freedom of movement in the Schengen area, which is so important to us all, we have to reinforce the control of our shared external borders.

Guy Verhostadt has said there is an urgent need to deepen European defence cooperation to fight terrorism. What is your view on this?

France invoked article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union, which contains a ‘mutual defence clause’, to be activated if a member state is the victim of an armed attack on its territory. This is the first time in the history of the European Union that this clause has been activated.

It is a strong political act, and I am delighted that our partners gave us their unanimous support. We asked our EU partners for assistance, on a bilateral basis and according to their capabilities, in the intensifying struggle against IS on the ground in Iraq and Syria, or for an increased military contribution to other important areas of our collective security, for example to relieve our own forces in the Sahel and the Central African Republic.

It is an absolutely vital step forward for European solidarity in terms of security and the establishment of a European defence structure, which has to stand up to the challenges to the peace and security of Europe. 

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