Timmermans urges EU nations to step up cooperation against terrorism

Frans Timmermans called for EU cooperation on security on 17 February. [Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken/Flickr]

During a visit to Paris on Tuesday (17 February), European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans told EU member states to improve cooperation on security, using the systems already in place. France called for better coordination of border checks for foreign fighters returning from Syria and elsewhere. EURACTIV France reports.

The European Commission Vice-President yesterday called on member states to make better use of the tools currently at their disposal to coordinate their security and counter-terrorism efforts.

Timmermans said it was important to look for new ways to share information, using Europol or other services.

The Dutch politician added that the member states had numerous options available to them, including putting the passport-free Schengen agreement to better use in the fight against terrorism.

“If necessary, we could modify the Schengen agreement, but we must first explore all the possibilities available to us,” he said, referring to French calls for rewriting the EU’s shared border code.

>> Read: French calls to rewrite Schengen code fall on deaf ears

PNR promised by the end of 2015

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French Interior Minister, expressed Paris’ wish to “establish coordinated border checks for foreign fighters returning to the EU. This is a first stage to put in place before the possible establishment of systematic checks”.

The two men also raised the thorny subject of the Passenger Name Record (PNR), which continues to divide opinion on its stormy passage through the European Institutions.

Both politicians reaffirmed their will to see the European PNR up and running as soon as possible; the French Minister of the Interior said he hopes to see it established “by the end of 2015,” but the Commission Vice-President would not commit to a date.

>> Read: Parliament’s alliance against passenger data provisions crumbles

Frans Timmermans said, “The resolution adopted by the European Parliament has opened up the dialogue with the elected representatives, and I think we will make good progress. The European Parliament hopes to link this programme with data protection, but even so, we will be able to move quickly”.

The resolution adopted by Parliament on 12 February asks the European Commission to establish the European PNR in conjunction with the data protection directive. The complexity of the issues at stake on this directive have led to a drawn out negotiation process, which is still ongoing.

>> Read: Data protection tops the Commission’s agenda

The MEP Arnaud Danjean, of the French centre-right UMP party, believes “it was thoughtless of some MEPs to link the two subjects. That was a sure-fire way of avoiding progress”.

But others, including Sylvie Guillaume, the Socialist MEP and European Parliament Vice-President, do not share this view. For her, the most important issue is to find “the right balance to make the PNR a tool that is both effective respectful of personal freedoms”.

>> Read: Donald Tusk urges Parliament to accept European PNR

Data retention refers to the storage of traffic and location data resulting from electronic communications.

The main legislative instrument at EU level governing this field was the Data Retention Directive, which was adopted in November 2006 following the Madrid terrorist train bombings in 2004 and the public transport bombings in London in 2005. These resulted in a text which gave room for different applications at national level and which did not guarantee a sufficient level of harmonisation.

Data protection and privacy in electronic communications are also governed by the E-privacy Directive, which dates back to 2002, although it has been slightly revised in 2009.

Germany, however, is still overshadowed by apprehension toward government monitoring, due to the heavy surveillance of citizens practised in the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) and under Hitler's Nazis.

Germany and Belgium were taken to court by the EU, after refusing to implement the 2006 Data Retention Directive. The measure was overturned in April 2014. 

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