13 November 2018

European Union’s Council Presidency- What can Romania do to improve European Union’s internal security level?

Marian Tutilescu

We are continuing the foray among the priorities our country established for European Union’s presidency, topics which will uppermost be approached during the Presidency of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council. Today, we will approach three priorities that Romania committed to, in order to improve EU’s internal security, which are the fight against terrorism, the cooperation across the civil protection domain and the insurance of large-scale interoperability of informatic systems in the area of home affairs.

Image source: Mediafax

We must mention that the topics about EU’s internal security are even more important as Union’s citizens concern on their safety, but also on the communities they live in, are more and more obvious. Considering that we are getting close to euro-parliamentarian elections, the topics about internal security will be approached mostly by the candidates, especially by nationalist and euro-skeptical parties. To counteract the speculations about European Union’s competencies restraints and of the so-called enlargements of national sovereignty, on the areas divided at the moment with the Union, we need to identify and promote some viable solutions against the threats the EU is confronting with.

In the light of these things, we want to make a more detailed presentation of some initiatives which are on the Justice and Home Affairs Council agenda, so that our readers can get to know better the existing mechanisms or the ones proposed, to improve Union’s security level.

Fighting terrorism

Even if lately we have not faced any huge terrorism attacks, mostly thanks to effectiveness activities carried out by specialised agencies in the field, it is still obvious terrorist groups’ preoccupation in recruiting adepts, especially among Union’s citizens, to carry out some smaller attacks, but with major media impact. We already know the terrorist attacks which were using vehicles to hit people in public spaces, where often kids or defenceless people were killed or hurt. According to data provided by the EU Commission, in 2017, 16 terrorist attacks hit 8-member states. Meanwhile other 30 attacks were forewarned by specialised agencies. Most of these were committed by isolated people, due to radicalisation and orientation towards violent actions, with a profoundly terrorist significance.

In these circumstances, on 17th of July 2017, the European Commission founded a High-Level commission Experts’ group on radicalisation. Expert’s Group report was presented in May 2018, whereat it was made a series of recommendations for the Commission, but especially for the member states, whose implementation needs to be supervised during next Presidencies, mostly the Romanian one.

The main recommendations aim at fighting radicalization in prisons, counteracting online propaganda and extremist type ideologies, which are leading to violence and, of course, at education and social integration. One of the proposals the commission agreed on is the one referring to a Steering Committee which, along with EU’s coordinator in antiterrorism domain (expert who already exists for more than 10 years), to ensure EU’s actions orientation towards member states’ policies and needs, in the field.

Even if Romania is not confronting with such a direct and imminent threat regarding terrorism, this topic remains a priority, and Romania’s Presidency (RO PRES) should promote a preventive approach regarding the exchange of best practices among member states, simultaneously with valorizing national expertise.

A tool which proved to be efficient in prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution   of terrorism offences and trans-border organized crime is Passenger Name Record-PNR, adopted through 681/2016 EU Directive, which used passenger’s track from air carriers.

Concretely, the Directive obliges air carriers which operate flights from/to member states to/from third countries, to send specific data regarding the names of the passengers and other collected information (destination, luggage, contact details, etc.) to an entity, set up in each member state (Passenger Unit Information-PIU).  The data are sent by the airlines 24-48 hours before the planned takeoff and immediately after ending the access at plane’s board, to PIU from the member state wherefrom the takeoff was made, or where the plane will land. Those data are analyzed by the PIU staff, in order to identify passengers who could represent a security threat against EU, before the plane lands or takes off on/from EU member states’ airports.

Romania can share its own practice experience with PNR operationalisation, being one of the member states which already has a National Passengers Information Unit, which works since 2016.

On JHA’ Council agenda there are two other important files regarding terrorism combat, which are about to be managed by RO PRES, specifically the proposal for a Decision of European Parliament and  EU Council to establish the facilitation norms of using financial and other types of information to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute terrorist offences, including financing terrorism, and also proposing a Regulation regarding electronic evidence. These initiatives want to improve law enforcement agencies’ activity in combating serious and trans-border crime.

Cooperating in civil protection area

The significantly increased number of emergency situations, disasters, calamities, huge wildfires and, not least, terrorist attacks wherewith member states have confronted, ended with a big number of human loses, showed that an efficient response to such events, needs an effective cooperation between specialized agencies, but also an efficient cooperation mechanism at Union’s level.

Despite the already existing mechanisms, like the Emergency Response Coordination Centre-ERCC, which ensures the early detection and warning through European system of warnings and exchange of information with contact points from the member states, and European Emergency Response Capacity- EERC, which ensures using existing logistic capacities in member states and its availability for those in need, the efforts should be focused towards saving the lives of those who are afflicted by such situations.

In order to actually be aware of the importance of such objective, we just have to think about the unhappy event from Colectiv club, which was a huge challenge for the Romanian health services in terms of the treatment of casualties. The situation has not changed much since then, so that, a similar incident, not only in Romania, but also in many other member states with reduced treatment capacities for people with serious burns, could have similar serious effects. This is why, during its Presidency, Romania has to be extremely careful regarding this subject, which will bring more significant added value, with a humanitarian content, for the cooperation across the EU.

To that end, we think that adopting Council’s conclusions for establishing some direction lines regarding the activation of Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) for atypical situations, other than terrorist acts or disasters, ended with a huge number of casualties (mining accidents, wildfires), setting up of  a multinational team to evaluate, transfer and treat the victims, in other member states which have the proper logistical capacities, medicines transfer and the necessary equipment in such special cases, should be a priority for RO PRES.

Ensuring large-scale informatic systems interoperability at European Union’s level

For domain’s better understanding we should make clear that, in order to improve European Union’s internal security level, during the last years, there were developed a series of informatic systems, which are helping member states‘ law enforcement agencies which to accomplish their duties.

Schengen Informatic System (SIS) allows national authorities, through an automatic hit/no hit type search procedure, to get data about the wanted people, based on a European arrest warrant or for extradition, missing people or those are under discrete supervision, goods wanted to be seized or appropriated, etc. The system contains also clear instructions on what to do when the person or object has been found.  At the end of 2017, SIS had over 76 million alerts, with over 5 billion interrogations, wherefrom 243.000 were people registered in data basis.

At the beginning of 2018 it was launched SIS AFIS platform (Automatic Fingerprint Identification System) which allows authorities with access rights to identify someone who is in SIS data basis, exclusively based on digital fingerprint.

Second generation SIS, unlike SIS I, includes new alerts categories, including unidentified people, suspected for organized crimes, serious frauds or terrorism, as well as biometrical data of the people who were introduced in the system.

In these circumstances, we must mention that on 28th of October, the European Parliament adopted the SIS reform package, the Regulation to be subdued to JHA Council’s final approval, probably by December.

Visa Information System (VIS) connects Schengen member states consulates and check border  points at Schengen’s external border area, allowing it to exchange data about the entry visas for short or transit stay in Schengen area. The system is using biometrical data of visas’ owners belonging to third states and is about to be extended, to include also visas’ owners on long-term and residence passes.

EURODAC system is a data basis which contains digital fingerprints of asylum seekers and their identification data, according to the documents they have or, in its absence, according to stated data. The system is used, at the moment, by 28-member states and 4 associated states (Island, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein) to identify if an asylum seeker made a similar demand in another member state.

Across the measures regarding Common European Asylum System, the Commission presented a proposal about the improvement of EURODAC system, to reflect the proposed changes for Dublin’s Regulation (presented in the previous article), as well as the inclusion of biometrical data of the ones who are in this data basis.

European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), which is working since 2012, allows the exchange of information regarding the criminal record, respectively complete information about previous convictions of the citizens from EU member states they are part of. The new ECRIS-TCN system will allow competent authorities from the member states to know also if another member state has information about the previous convictions of certain people, who belongs to a third country, or a person without citizenship. This Commission’s initiative regarding TCN (Third Country Nationals) is part of a new approach, which wants all EU’s information systems in security, borders and migration domain to become interoperable.

The Entry/Exit System (EES), adopted through Council’s Regulation from 30th of November 2017, wants to improve EU’s foreign borders management, particularly to record  entry/exit time and place of citizens from third countries, who have short-stay or transit visa and to calculate the period of their authorized stay. The system will replace passports’ stamp obligation and will contribute at the identification of the people who did not respect the authorized stay conditions on EU’s territory.

European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is an electronic system, which will allow the storage of data about people who are entering Schengen’s space and who do not currently need a visa for it. We must mention that, at the moment, citizens of 61 countries are excepted from visa for entering Schengen Space. The system will improve the identification of those who did not respect the 90 days duration stay, and who could be a threat against EU’s security.

All of these information systems from internal security domain, are about to be managed at a European level by the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA), set up in 2011 and became operational since 2012. According to eu-LISA’s calendar, systems operationalisation would start with 2021.

At the moment, eu-LISA agency manages only EURODAC, Schengen Information System and Visa Information System. European Commission’s two regulation proposals regarding the interoperability between systems from police and judicial cooperation domain, asylum and migration, respectively borders and visas, are now in trialogue procedure (Council-Commission-Parliament); if the Austrian Presidency (AU PRES) will not end the trialogue negotiations by the end of this year, RO PRES of EU’s Council will continue the process to close these files.

Precisely, interoperability represents a simplified access method in data bases of the law enforcement agencies and, furthermore, getting comprehensive information about people who could or are a danger for EU’s security.

Accomplishing this objective during RO PRES of JHA’s Council, will bring a significant added value for the identification process of the possible threats and will be highly appreciated by all member states.

Concluding over these RO PRESS priorities of JHA’s Council-Home Affairs domain, it is obvious that agenda’s topics will definitely be complex, especially when, at this very moment, clearly many of AU PRESS priorities will not be completed by the end of this year, so it will be taken over by the following Presidency, which is Romania’s. Let’s not forget the European elections’ impact over Presidency’s effective work time with European Commission and Parliament.

All of these challenges must seriously be analyzed by Romanian experts in home affairs domain, and not only, to early identify solutions and measures for a successful mandate.