Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-444)


28 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q440  Chairman: The northern dimension is a very good example which was discussed in Helsinki last week.

  Mr Faull: Exactly. There is a northern dimension, there is a southern dimension and there is an eastern dimension. The Mediterranean countries have problems which are not the same all the time as those faced by the Nordic countries, and that obviously makes sense. There I think one does see the expansion of the Union at play. Nevertheless, most of the big issues and challenges we face when we look at the wider world are common to us all and that is why I believe that most of the time the European institutions are the ones which work and should be used. I have no dogmatic objection to the practice of groups of Member States meeting to talk about operational matters and, indeed, to begin talking about rules which one day can become Community rules. There are all sorts of issues which you highlighted in your report about accountability and transparency. We may be criticised in the authentic institutional framework for some of our shortcomings in transparency and accountability but at least we have rules. They may not always be the right ones, they may not always be fully complied with, in which case you should rap us over the knuckles, but we have them, some of these groups do not really have them and clearly that is an issue which may cause concern. We are generally of the view that the institutions are well tested and should be made to work by all concerned. If good ideas come from elsewhere we are not proud, we will consider them, and if they are the right ones we will seek to extend them to everybody else.

  Q441  Lord Teverson: Forgive me, Director, if I could come back to the Portuguese issue again. If SIS I is extended in terms of numbers of Member States it can cope with then is there not a temptation, if that has been achieved, that you just bolt-on the extra information fields in terms of biometric information on to that SIS I system? You have taken away the political momentum in terms of SIS II so to avoid all the issues of systems development that we have talked about is there not a temptation just to add another bit on that gets over the problem altogether?

  Dr Paul: Technically that is simply not possible. The big advantage of SIS II is that it provides more flexibility, it is more easily scaleable, et cetera, whereas SIS I dates back in its architectural conception to the early 1990s which in terms of IT is really the Stone Age. We are now moving towards a much more flexible system and it would simply be impossible to incorporate any biometrics in the present system. If you want the new functionalities, there is no choice. That is also interlinking alerts, which is very important to be more efficient in finding people and solving crimes. There is no choice but to move to a more flexible system and SIS II will provide exactly that.

  Q442  Lord Avebury: You talk about the Prüm system being brought into the framework of European law together with its own data protection regime that applies to it and at the same time in parallel you have got the DPFD being developed to correspond with the principle of availability. Is it not going to be extremely confusing to have more than one data protection regime applying to similar types of data? Would not the logical outcome of bringing the Prüm Treaty into European law be to apply the DPFD to its provisions as well?

  Mr Faull: Yes, you are absolutely right, it would be vastly preferable to have one system that everybody can operate and live with. It comes down to a question of timing: will the data protection Framework Decision be in place when Prüm comes in? I do not know. We do not know precisely when the Framework Decision will be adopted and we do not know how the domestication of Prüm will work in timing terms either. It is better to have some data protection than none at all but ultimately the whole thrust of our proposal for the Framework Decision is that there should be one universal regime, if you like, for data protection in third pillar issues.

  Chairman: Director-General, we have imposed on your time and generosity. I think there is one quick supplementary question from Lord Listowel to which we invite a quick reply.

  Q443  Earl of Listowel: I would be very grateful if you did have time to answer this question. I apologise for not giving you notice in writing beforehand. The Hague Programme indicated that there will be a proposal from the Commission to supplement the existing Schengen evaluations with a supervisory mechanism ensuring the full involvement of Member States' experts and including unannounced inspections. Could you tell us more about this? This was a particular concern raised by the Deputy Information Commissioner in our country about the monitoring process rather than the evaluation before. If you prefer to write to me after the Committee that would be very welcome.

  Mr Faull: I will. What I can tell you immediately is that we have not yet made that proposal. I will very happily write to you and tell you exactly where we stand in the preparation. I do not think very far because it has not crossed my desk.

  Q444  Chairman: Director-General, when you see the transcript if there are other things that you think will be helpful for us for you to follow up in writing we would be very grateful if you would send it to us. May I express warm gratitude for the way in which all three of you have dealt with our questions. It is very nice to have seen you again. I have no doubt that this Committee will have further contact with you and your Directorate-General. Thank you very much, and again thank you for coming here to give your evidence. It has been very nice to see the three of you.

  Mr Faull: I should perhaps disclose that I shall spend this afternoon in the company of colleagues of yours from the other place.

  Chairman: Indeed. Word had reached us to that effect. Can I wish you and them good luck. Thank you very much.

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