New Proposals Let More People Into EU, Keep Others Out | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.10.2007
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New Proposals Let More People Into EU, Keep Others Out

While EU justice and interior ministers meeting in Lisbon discussed tightening border controls of non-EU citizens, the bloc's internal borderless travel zone is set to be extended.

A police officer waves a car to a check at the German-Austrian border

More countries are set to benefit from the Schengen agreement

Among the raft of new anti-terror measures up for discussion at the two-day informal meeting, which began Monday, Oct. 1, was the use of new technology and the sharing of travelers' data in the fight against terrorism.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini called for a register of all non-EU citizens entering and leaving the 27-nation bloc, who would be electronically registered with biometric identifiers.

The register is "extremely necessary" in order to crack down on people who are granted permission to stay for a restricted time but disappear when the period expires, Frattini explained, pointing to recent scares in Germany, Britain and Denmark.

Under his proposals, which will be published in November, law-enforcement officials in all member states would be allowed to share collected data with colleagues across the EU.

The scheme would operate alongside an airline passenger data recording system apparently modeled on one developed by the US.

Officials said they were still debating whether to adopt the system for flights within EU as well as those to and from countries outside the union.

Technological crackdown

Computer users in an Internet café

Should radical Web sites be blocked?

Much of the discussion was geared to finding ways of countering the use of the Internet by militants, with participants debating issues such as censorship and freedom of expression.

Frattini proposed a technological crackdown on terrorist activities, including a plan to set up a database to provide an early-warning system on lost or stolen explosives, and new provisions to deal with the misuse of the Internet by terrorists.

Frattini urged sanctions against Web sites that disseminate terror propaganda or bomb-building instructions or engage in recruitment for terrorist groups, prompting concerns among ministers about privacy and civil liberties.

Such Web sites "have nothing to do with freedom of expression," retaliated Frattini, who said he was also considering proposing broader legal definition of conspiracy that would include people who support terrorist acts.

Public concerns that European legislators might curb people's individual freedoms in their attempts to prevent terrorism attacks on their territory were apparent at the press conference after Monday's meeting.

"If your question is whether a sort-of 'Big Brother' is arising in Europe and calling fundamental rights into question, then the answer is 'no,'" said Rui Pereira, Portugal's interior minister, in response to a question, according to news agency dpa.

"But no member state, and the EU as a whole, can avoid fighting terrorism," he added.

Extending the Schengen agreement

Franco Frattini

EU Justice and Home Affairs Comissioner Frattini

Also discussed was an extension to the EU's borderless travel zone -- as far east as the frontiers with Ukraine and Belarus -- a week before Christmas, two weeks ahead of schedule.

According to Portuguese Home Affairs Minister Rui Perreira, nine new member states are poised to join the Schengen travel zone, abolishing all land and sea checks along their common borders, although checks at airports will continue until March.

"All of the tests that we have carried out confirm that by the end of the year we will be able to remove the frontiers," said Perreira.

The border-free "Schengen" area now includes 13 EU countries, plus Norway and Iceland.

The latest countries involved are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Cyprus, the 10th nation to join the EU in 2004, has opted to keep some border checks for a further year.

"I think this will serve as a real incentive for citizens of the new member states to feel that they are full European citizens," Perreira said.

EU justice ministers will decide on giving the final go-ahead to the expansion of Schengen during their meeting on Nov. 8.

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