EU ministers agree to ′considerably strengthen′ border controls | News | DW | 20.11.2015
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EU ministers agree to 'considerably strengthen' border controls

EU ministers have agreed to impose stricter border checks and gun controls, as well as increased surveillance cooperation. The creation of an EU intelligence agency has also been discussed but is not yet 'on the table.'

In a move of solidarity with France, the 28 EU member state governments agreed on Friday to speed up measures on the sharing of air passengers' data, to reduce firearms trafficking and to invoke much stricter checks on people crossing Europe's external borders, EU citizens included.

"The European Commission has agreed to present, by the end of the year, a plan to reform the Schengen border code to allow systematic and obligatory checks at all external borders for all travelers, including those who benefit from free movement," said France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve after the emergency meeting in Brussels on Friday. "It's a crucial change," he added.

Until the formal Schengen proposal is complete, the interior and justice ministers also agreed to temporarily tighten checks on the Schengen area's external borders.

"We have talked enough. We have to act. It's not an option, it's an obligation," said Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg's domestic security minister, who chaired the emergency meeting in Brussels.

Passenger data to be shared

Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said before the meeting: "We are here to show our French colleagues and the French people that we stand by them and that we are determined to make a tough, clear response." He added that it was imperative for Europe's national security services to share more information with each other.

During the meeting, France called for inter-European flights to be included in upcoming data sweeps and for the information - names, credit cards, itinerary, and personal data - to be kept for one year rather than one month. The so-called Passenger Name Record (PNR) program has stalled for years in the European Parliament due to privacy concerns.

"It is entirely possible for a strong (PNR) proposal to be completed before the end of 2015," Claude Moraes, the chairman of the assembly's civil liberties committee told the Associated Press. Travelers can now expect to not only have their passports examined, but have their personal information checked with criminal databases, as well.

A German border police officer controls the documents of passengers at Frankfurt's airport

Travelers in the EU will now have their passports run through criminal databases

'European intelligence agency'

The EU regularly exchanges information with the U.S., Australia and Canada, but the development of a data sharing system between its member states has proved nearly impossible.

However, during Friday's meeting, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for internal affairs and migration, said the EU is set to propose a shared "European intelligence agency."

When questioned after the meeting, he made clear that such a body would not be formed anytime soon.

"It is an ideal idea," Avramopoulos said, insisting that it would best serve the European Union and that the Commission had started examining the possibilities, "but it is not on the table right now." It is currently more important for intelligence sharing to improve amongst member states.

"We have to bring an end to the promises for another day... these delays, otherwise Europe will be lost," Cazeneuve told reporters after the meeting. "We need strong actions. We must move swiftly and with force. Europe owes it to all victims of terrorism and those who are close to them."

The meeting in Brussels took place one week after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris which killed 130 people and wounded 350.

rs/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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