Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)


28 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q400  Baroness Henig: We are moving forward now. I would like to ask what is the timetable and likely content of all the measures implementing the Schengen II legislation which the Commission must adopt, including the standards relating to the use of biometrics.

  Mr Faull: There will be implementing measures to complete the SIS II legal framework. We will produce those implementing measures, including those relating to standards for the use of biometrics, and a new SIRENE manual. Can somebody remind me what SIRENE stands for?

  Mrs Boulanger: It is Supplementary Information Request at National Entry. In practice the acronym does not reveal the content exactly.

  Mr Faull: Anyway, there will be a new version of that.

  Q401  Chairman: I think we call it sire"ne, do we not?

  Mrs Boulanger: Yes.

  Mr Faull: It sounds odd in English, does it not? All of that will be necessary for the proper application of the legislative instruments and for SIS II to start operations properly. According to the rescheduling agreement reached in the Council in October these measures should be adopted by August 2007 which will leave enough time for the Member States to provide for internal measures to implement them before SIS II moves into its operational phase. They may need subsequently to be amended further when biometric searches start since those biometric searches will in turn depend on the availability of the proper infrastructure at the central site and the readiness of the Member States to set in place the requisite training of the people concerned, the equipment at a national level and so on.

  Q402  Baroness Henig: What is the likely timetable and content of the Commission report on the use of one-to-many biometric searches?

  Mr Faull: I am just checking my notes.

  Q403  Chairman: I am sorry, I think this is an unscripted question.

  Mr Faull: All right then, Frank. He is better at improvising than I am.

  Dr Paul: It is very clear that the biometric search capacity will only be introduced once the system is up and running. That has been made very clear from the outset. When that time will be depends very much on when the Member States will be ready to transmit such information and do the searches having done the training of all police forces, et cetera. When this will happen will depend on the final timeframe for making the SIS II operational. You will probably know that for the time being Member States are discussing in the Council the possibility to temporarily enlarge the current SIS I system to a system called SIS one4all. That is the name that has been given to this initiative by the Portuguese Government which initially suggested this idea. If it is decided by the Council on 4 and 5 December that Member States will go for that option, and thus new Member States will be integrated into the current SIS I, this will inevitably have a repercussion on the timing for the SIS II, so there will be further delays in making the SIS II available if that initiative is implemented. It really depends on the time when the SIS II is made available. We estimate the time that is needed to implement the biometric search functionality in the SIS II once it has become operational is probably something about two years, but again very much depending on the ability of Member States to perform these biometric searches. It goes without saying that we will of course look at this very closely both from a technical and data protection point of view. The way we will do this is probably link it to the infrastructure of the so-called biometric matching system which is a service oriented architecture that will serve simultaneously various applications, such as the VIS—the Visa Information System—and then the SIS II.

  Q404  Baroness Henig: When you have done all that and you have presumably reported on that some time down the line, how can the Commission ensure that your report is acted on by the Council?

  Dr Paul: I did not quite get the last bit.

  Q405  Baroness Henig: You have been describing the process as somewhat down the line that you, as the Commission will oversee what is going on and presumably report on this at some stage.

  Dr Paul: Yes.

  Q406  Baroness Henig: How can you then ensure that your report is acted on by the Council at that point in time when you have done that?

  Dr Paul: There is no further need for a specific legal instrument to be adopted. There will be no further consultation of the European Parliament on a new legal instrument, for instance, we will just implement it as we have foreseen according to the then established standards that still need to be studied when we are ready to implement biometrics.

  Q407  Baroness Henig: So you will just go ahead and it will not go to Council at that stage.

  Dr Paul: We will report to Council and the Parliament.

  Mrs Boulanger: The Commission will prepare a report and the report will be submitted to the Council and the Parliament.

  Q408  Baroness Henig: How will you then ensure that it is acted upon?

  Dr Paul: This is the point. There will be no further legal act that would involve Parliament to implement the biometrics. If you refer to the authorisation to implement, this has already been given in the currently adopted legal instrument.

  Mrs Boulanger: If you will allow me to add something. Most probably this would be done via the comitology procedure and, as you know, all the acts the Commission adopts via the comitology procedure are transmitted to the Parliament, so the Parliament has some rights according to this procedure.

  Q409  Lord Teverson: Can I ask for clarification. Forgive me if I have not been listening properly. Are you saying, which I had not picked up, that there is now a Portuguese proposal that SIS I be extended in order to take in new Member States which would then have priority over the development of SIS II so it moves forward the political objective of integration of the new Member States and then we deal with SIS II?

  Mr Faull: The Portuguese have proposed a system whereby the SIS I could be cloned, in effect, and made available for the new Member States immediately, solving the capacity problem, at least in the short-term, but not adding on any new features. That is currently being discussed and will be discussed again in the Council next week. Member States are somewhat divided on the issue. Obviously there is a resource issue, particularly in the smaller Member States, where we have alerted people to the danger that by working now on SIS I they will essentially cannibalise the teams working on SIS II because they are not going to find extra people that easily, so this will add a further delay to the SIS II project which meanwhile everybody says remains fully necessary. The political attraction of finding a quick fix and dealing with the second-class citizen perception that the Earl of Caithness referred to is powerful and one has to acknowledge that. It may release some political pressure now but whether it will fulfil all the expectations is very much a matter of discussion. I understand that the Member States met in the Article 36 Committee to discuss this yesterday and it will be discussed by the Permanent Representatives Committee, Coreper tomorrow.

  Q410  Chairman: Do you know if it got much support yesterday?

  Mr Faull: I think it got some support. I do not know whether my British friends sitting over there were present; I was not. Were you, Marie-Hélène?

  Dr Paul: I was present.

  Mr Faull: You were present, Frank. I had a very quick read-out just coming over here this morning from Frank, and he can add something. There is some support but considerable division still. Is that a fair characterisation?

  Dr Paul: Yes, it is a fair characterisation, however I would say at this stage the probability of this being adopted remains relatively high.

  Q411  Chairman: High?

  Dr Paul: Yes, relatively high. That said, if you will allow me to come back to the question you have just put, I understood from what you said that you think this indicates a priority that is given to the SIS I-for-all project over the SIS II project.

  Q412  Lord Teverson: Only from what Jonathan was saying himself.

  Dr Paul: In theory, at least, equal priority will be given to the SIS II and the SIS one4all projects. The delay that I was referring to is caused by the risks Mr Faull quite rightly underlined. However, it is also a purely and absolutely inevitable technical consequence. The reason is simply that under the current development plan for the SIS II we would have to migrate the 15 existing users, the 15 existing Member States, from the old system into the new system. If the new Member States are integrating into the old system it automatically increases the number of Member States that would have to migrate and it takes a certain amount of time for each Member State which leads to those inevitable delays. The delay is of a simply inevitable technical nature.

  Mr Faull: May I make an off the record comment?

  Q413  Chairman: Please.

  Mr Faull: (The answer was given off the record)

  Q414  Earl of Listowel: Director-General, can you provide some help in explaining why are none of the measures that you have been discussing subject to the new "regulatory procedure with scrutiny", and this is a procedure which gives control over draft implementing measures to the European Parliament? Is any part of these implementing measures likely to be secret?

  Mr Faull: The regulatory procedure with scrutiny, which is a quasi-legislative procedure, was considered unsuitable in this case because the implementing measures we are talking about are not intended to amend or to supplement the legal instruments themselves. They are technical or operational implementation of what has been agreed in the legislation rather than implementation of such a nature as basically to amend the original legislation. The adoption of the implementing measures by the Commission will, we believe, constitute a step forward in comparison with the current SIS arrangements in transparency terms where, frankly, some implementing measures are not formally established at all, things are done, agreed by the technical people involved, and, if reduced to writing at all certainly not made available. In accordance with comitology procedures we will send to the European Parliament all the draft implementing measures we are speaking of and they will be available to the public in accordance with our normal document access procedures.

  Q415  Lord Teverson: Director-General, this is around the proposals on the management of SIS II and what options there are available. We are particularly interested is one of those options the management of SIS II by agencies like Europol or Frontex or an existing organisation within the EU family?

  Mr Faull: We have started work on what will be a major impact assessment on the long-term management of SIS II and we will also encompass in that the other large-scale IT systems that have been created in the justice, freedom and security area for which Frank Paul is responsible. We do not know what the impact assessment will say obviously, but we have identified five options which we think are worthy at least of consideration: a brand new agency; the Frontex agency, the agency for the management of the external borders which lives in Warsaw; management by the Commission which could either be direct or delegated management by an executive agency but under the Commission's aegis; management by Europol or management by a Member State on behalf of all the others. All of those things are possible, they have merits and they have demerits. We will look into them and provide the best objective arguments we can so there can be a proper debate and then a decision on them. Another option to be considered is whether we are talking only about SIS II or whether we would include in a package the other big computer systems that have grown up in the justice and home affairs areas and which there is a fairly widespread school of thought that it is not the Commission's usual core business to manage.

  Q416  Lord Teverson: Could I ask out of my ignorance how that decision is made? Who makes that decision? What is the procedure?

  Mr Faull: It would require legislation.

  Q417  Lord Teverson: It is a legislative issue?

  Mr Faull: Yes.

  Q418  Lord Avebury: Before asking my next question can I ask a supplementary on that one. Are there not strong management arguments for allocating this to an agency which already has experience of large-scale computer system management? In that sense would not, for example, Europol be high on the priority list rather than establishing a new agency which has to acquire the capability of managing large computer systems from scratch?

  Mr Faull: In general I am sure you have a very good point that if we have an agency with successful experience of managing large-scale computer systems they will have developed skills, experience and expertise in systems which would encourage the view that they should at least have a shot in this context as well rather than starting everything from scratch. That is a compelling argument.

  Q419  Lord Avebury: The five alternatives that you mentioned, will these be evaluated from the cost point of view so that you can differentiate between those who do not need large-scale training programmes for completely unskilled or inexperienced staff?

  Mr Faull: Very much so.

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