Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)|
Mrs Laura Yli-Vakkuri
28 NOVEMBER 2006
Q480 Chairman: No, right. Perhaps I could
ask an unscripted question because we have heard quite a bit today
from other witnesses about a Portuguese proposal for an SISone4all.
Would you like to give us your reaction? How does this affect
your Working Party's work? What impact is it going to have on
progress, or lack of progress, of SIS II?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Indeed, Portugal presented
this proposal to the Council in September/October in order to
facilitate or speed up the process of Schengen enlargement vis-a"-vis
the new Member States. During this autumn the relevant working
groups have been discussing the proposal, the technical feasibility,
the legal, technical, operational and management issues related
to this proposal. In fact, at this very moment some conclusions
are being drafted in the Justus Lipsius building concerning the
outcome of this study and these conclusions will be presented
to the Council next week on Tuesday. We know already that in principle
this solution could be technically feasible but the effect on
the SIS II project as far as technical issues are concerned is
still under discussion.
Q481 Chairman: Is it likely to further
delay the process, do you think?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: There is always a risk because
you can take a political decision saying that one or other of
the options is the priority but we are the same people working
with these projects and we are only so many. Obviously one cannot
exclude that these projects affect each other's timetables. We
could be talking about a few months maybe, I do not know. We will
need to discuss that between the ministers on Tuesday.
Q482 Chairman: Thank you. Does the Presidency
believe that the process of negotiating the SIS II legislation
was transparent enough for the public and for national parliaments?
Does the Presidency have any plan to address the transparency
of the co-decision process, in particular the informal discussion
between the European Parliament and the Council and the process
of reaching "first reading" agreements?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: This is a good question because
we are talking about legal instruments which will come into force
and be directly binding on Member States and citizens, so obviously
transparency is important. Also transparency issues are close
to the heart of the Finnish Presidency as one of our priorities.
Q483 Chairman: Indeed.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: I would say that the rules
on transparency within the Council have developed a great deal
during the past years. Concerning legal instruments, like here
in the context of the SIS II, the working documents have been
made public if there has been a request to the Council to do so.
Throughout the process all the working documents, revised versions
of the original Commission proposals, have been distributed if
such a request was made. That is as far as the documents are concerned.
As far as the negotiations or deliberations within the institutions
are concerned, when these issues have been discussed in the Council
there is always a press conference afterwards and the conclusions
are made public, so in that sense the public and national parliaments
are able to follow the process. As far as the working level discussions
are concerned, let us say that as to the working groups within
the Council or the informal meetings with the European Parliament,
it would be quite difficult to make them public. But the results
of these discussions are always based on and will be reflected
in the documents that are made public if such a request is made.
Q484 Earl of Caithness: I have a supplementary
that is on the transparency of the existing system. When the French
ran the Schengen office a lot more information was produced before
1999 when it became part of the EU, and it was only recently due
to a public outcry that more information was released about how
the present system is working. Why do you think that happened,
that there was a sudden reduction in the amount of statistics
and information available in 1999? What have you been doing to
satisfy the demand for a clearer and more transparent system?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: That is an interesting question.
I did not realise that was the case.
Q485 Earl of Caithness: Would you like
to write to us about it?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: I am sorry I am not able to
reply, I did not know that there was such a decrease in transparency
after 1999. I am sure that was not the intention when we integrated
the Schengen Information System and the whole Schengen system
into the European Union. As I said, the transparency rules are
developing and with the SIS II we will see even more transparency
and more involvement by the European Data Protection Authority,
for instance, so let us hope that things will get better then.
Q486 Lord Avebury: My question is about
the various negotiations between the Parliament and the Council
and whether you can identify significant parts of the texts which
can be attributed primarily to the Parliament in the face of the
Council's reluctance to accept them and, conversely, whether you
can also identify the provisions which are primarily the work
of the Council in spite of the Parliament's reluctance. Can I
ask you to illustrate that by reference to a document which was
presented to the Parliament on 23 October and which we understood
was approved by them on that occasion which has now gone to Council
where we are told there is substantial agreement and it may just
go through on the nod with one minor exception to do with a matter
that has been raised by the Germans concerning their security
force's access to certain information. Is the process really one
of substantial agreement or can you identify places in which there
has been controversy and where the final text represents the best
compromise that could be achieved between the Parliament and the
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes. First of all, may I just
clarify or emphasise that in October a political agreement between
the institutions was reached so we will not touch the text itself
any more. We are not negotiating the provisions any more. The
only slight changes that we might still have to see in the text
will be the results of the linguist lawyer process. You spoke
about reluctance, I think that is quite a strong word because
here we are speaking about the negotiation process, we are speaking
about co-decision, we decide together. When two institutions discuss
we first have a basic text and then we discuss amendments. We
present the proposal and we have to present and justify the amendments
in a convincing way. In the end, and I think this was confirmed
throughout the negotiations, all the institutions were working
towards the same goal. The SIS II should be a secure system, it
should be a safe system, it should be an efficient tool for law
enforcement authorities and, very importantly, it should guarantee
some basic rights for individuals. We are all working towards
the same goal, but maybe the Member States are more experienced
in knowing how the system operates so when there is a proposal,
let us say from the European Parliament in this case, and the
Council discusses it, and because we are all sensible people we
accept the idea if it is found useful but we have to look at the
drafting to ensure it works in practice. I would not say that
there was a reluctance towards Parliament's proposals but every
proposal was discussed and justified as to why it could or not
could be accepted, and if it could be accepted in most of the
cases we did some drafting, again together with the European Parliament.
You asked also who could be the mother or father of certain provisions
in these documents. I would say that the European Parliament contributed
a great deal to the provisions that concern the security of the
system, for instance, and to the data protection rules as well.
Parliament was very strong on those points and concerning the
provisions which ensure that the central system and the national
systems function together in an efficient and safe manner.
Q487 Chairman: Thank you very much, that
is very helpful. Obviously this Committee is interested in the
whole range of questions but perhaps most particularly in the
role of the British Government and their representatives in Brussels
and, with permission, a representative is sitting behind. Could
you tell us either on or off the record your reaction to the role
that the British machine has taken given the fact that we will
not participate in the adoption of the regulation governing SIS
II immigration data. How much impact does the British input have
given this rather curious situation we are in of being only partially
in Schengen? If you want to go off the record you are very welcome.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: As we go along I will indicate
if that is necessary. First of all, I mentioned that I am a lawyer,
if I can still say that after 17 years of government service.
For a lawyer the Schengen world is a fascinating world, or justice
and home affairs in general in fact, we have so many exceptions,
opt-in, opt-out, it is quite interesting sometimes. As far as
the negotiation process on the SIS II legal instruments is concerned,
we started discussing these instruments during the UK Presidency
so the UK had a big impact in the beginning because they had a
privileged task but also a difficult task in managing the first
reading of those documents in the Council. As already has been
discussed, this is a huge and important system so obviously the
discussions at the beginning were quite difficult in the sense
that people did have views, but maybe people did not understand
all the provisions included in the Commission proposals, and under
the UK lead we had to go through all those provisions. I am not
convinced that the fact that the UK does not participate in all
parts of the Schengen Acquis affected the discussions on these
instruments that much. If you have a look at these two basic instrumentsof
course there are three instrumentsthe decision and the
main regulation, many of the provisions are horizontal as far
as the establishment of the system is concerned. The functioning
of the system, the processing of data, et cetera, et cetera, all
of these are horizontal provisions. The UK participated fully
in the adoption of these parts in the context of the decision.
This is what I can say from the process, the UK participated as
a normal Member State in the discussions.
Q488 Earl of Caithness: My question is
almost a supplementary to what the Chairman has just asked. In
particular you reminded us that all this discussion started during
the UK Presidency. Did our position affect our ability to chair
the meetings either positively or negatively?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: I do not think it did that
much, probably not, no. In any case it was difficult. When you
do a first reading of a huge legislative package like this it
is in any case quite difficult, so I would not say so.
Q489 Lord Dubs: What concerns have Member
States expressed about the Commission's record of managing the
SIS II project to date? I am aware it is a very complicated project
indeed. Is the Presidency happy that an agency will be created
to manage SIS II following management by Member States for an
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: First of all, on the managing
of the SIS II projects, there have been some drawbacks. For instance,
the process of call for tenders, for instance, was not that successful
and the Commission had to go to court even which caused some delays
to the process. This was a concern. If we think of the SIS II
as a whole it is a common project, it is not just the Commission
who manages it, it is also the Member States who implement it
and they have national systems which they will have to update.
It is not only the Commission who has to deliver here. Throughout
the process it has been indicated that all these, can we call
them stakeholders, need to deliver. Of course we are speaking
about a system which started as a system developed between the
Member States and managed by the Member States, so obviously it
is a question of building trust as well between different parties.
As far as the future is concerned, the Finnish Presidency is quite
happy with the solution that was found in these legal instruments.
We foresee the establishment of a management authority. This management
authority should be an independent agency who would then manage
the SIS II. We think that it would have delayed the adoption of
these instruments had we tried to develop or decide on this agency
this year, so it is quite good that we have an extra two or three
years before we have to establish that agency. Our view is that
it should be an independent agency.
Q490 Lord Avebury: You said just now
that the call for tenders was not successful. Do you attribute
that to a management failure of those who were drafting the tender
documents or was it simply that the people tendering were not
the right organisations to undertake this particular project?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: I am afraid I cannot answer
that question because I am not an expert on the technical side.
I am sorry, I am not very familiar with that process.
Q491 Lord Avebury: You made the remark
in the context of Lord Dubs' question about the Commission's record
of managing the project.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes.
Q492 Lord Avebury: I take it that in
fact this was, indirectly at least, a criticism of the manner
in which the Commission handled the tendering process.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: I mentioned some of the problems
that the Commission was facing.
Q493 Baroness Henig: Part of my question
has already been answered. You obviously expressed a preference
for an independent management agency.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes.
Q494 Baroness Henig: I just wondered
whether the Presidency would support management of the Schengen
II by Europol or by Frontex and what your views on that would
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Indeed our preference would
be for an independent agency. We did discuss the two options you
mentioned in Helsinki and they have been discussed between the
Member States as well, or at least we had a preliminary discussion
in spring. In Helsinki, the way we see it is that Europol is not
an EU agency, at least it is not yet, so we see that as a problem
because if you create an EU agency then this agency would function
under the EU rules directly. Furthermore, Europol is a third pillar
agency in a way, or will probably be a third pillar agency concentrating
on law enforcement cooperation, while SIS II is an inter-pillar
system which deals on the one hand with border control management
issues and, on the other hand, it is a law enforcement tool for
police organisations. Europol is not designed for doing this kind
of work. The same goes for Frontex. Frontex is a border management
agency. We are also talking about an important police co-operation
Q495 Chairman: I am sure I do not need
to tell you that the United Kingdom is by no means the only country
in the European Union which has had some very unhappy experiences
with large IT projects. Are you convinced that there is somebody
or some organisation out there actually competent to take on this
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Well, we certainly hope so.
Q496 Chairman: So do I!
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Obviously we will wait for
the Commission proposal on this but we have tried to make the
Commission's work a little bit easier because in these instruments
we have developed rules on how to manage this system. There are
quite a few clear rules related to security, exchange of information,
et cetera, et cetera. We are not talking about easy things. There
are other large scale IT systems being developed at the same time,
so at some point we will need to discuss the interoperability
of these systems.
Q497 Lord Dubs: Have you got any that
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: The Schengen Information System
works very well at the moment.
Lord Dubs: But it is smaller.
Q498 Lord Avebury: In any case, by the
time it gets handed over to the agency the design and development
work will already have been accomplished, will it not?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes.
Q499 Lord Avebury: For whoever is appointed
to conduct this phase of the development it will become clear
by the time the agency is appointed whether it is working or not
and it will be handed over as a working system, I presume.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes.