Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500-519)|
Mrs Laura Yli-Vakkuri
28 NOVEMBER 2006
Q500 Earl of Listowel: Mrs Yli-Vakkuri,
continuing our discussion of this agency, may I ask you whether
the Presidency has a view about what mechanisms should be adopted
to ensure the accountability of this institution?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: As I mentioned before, in these
instruments we do already have quite a few rules on this. We have
defined the basic responsibilities which this authority should
take. We have rules on security, confidentiality, keeping of records,
the processing of data, et cetera. The basic rules are already
there. I am sure that when we do discuss that Commission proposal
in the coming years we will have to see whether there is something
we need to change in these basic instruments to ensure accountability.
Q501 Earl of Listowel: So there will
be an annual report and any shortcomings would be addressed in
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes, I would imagine so, because
this system will probably start functioning before we have that
agency, so we can gain experience and then we will see. We do
have quite convincing data protection rules in these instruments.
We have the national data protection authorities who supervise
the system from the national point of view, we have involved the
European Data Protection Authority and we have rules on how to
link the work at national levels and European level so that these
data protection authorities can discuss and address issues of
Q502 Lord Teverson: I would like to ask
what view the Presidency takes in terms of the delays in implementation
of SIS II and I suppose very directly who is responsible for those
delays? Perhaps I can leave it at that and you can talk us through
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes, the blame game. As I said
earlier, this is a common project and we have done quite a lot
of research work on the development of the system and we have
had to adapt the timetable of this system as we have gone on with
the process and, indeed, there are still some unknown factors.
We do not know if we will accept the SISone4all solution, for
instance. It is a common project and I think it is safe to say
that nobody is perfect. You can always blame the Commission and
say that they could be more efficient or there is a lack of experience
or something like that. This can be said but, of course, there
have been some reported delays at the national level as well and
at the central level. We need to understand that this is a common
project and we are trying to manage this project in a way that
all the interests are met. In fact, the Council has established
an SIS Task Force to oversee the technical development.
Q503 Lord Teverson: Just to take that
slightly more broadly. Although there have been delays if, say,
SIS II was ready next week, because this is just the technical
systems side, are the potential new members of Schengen ready?
How ready would you judge them to be in terms of the evaluation
side that has to take place? Is your feeling that on the whole
if the systems were ready it could be practically implemented
on the ground or is there still a long, long way to go in terms
of secure borders and that sort of side in terms of the East European
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Not that long. If we are talking
about next week, no, they would not be ready next week. In fact,
the Council next week will discuss the Schengen implementation
in the new Member States and we are going to discuss the progress
report prepared by the Presidency concerning the ability of these
new Member States to implement Schengen rules. When we talk about
Schengen implementation it not just that you change laws, you
may have to change operational structures, you need to have sufficient
infrastructure at the air borders, land borders, sea borders,
et cetera, so this process takes time. We need to have target
dates. The target dates we have been speaking of so far are somewhere
towards the end of 2007. I would say that no new Member State
will be ready tomorrow or even early next week because we need
to give national administrations some leeway there to organise
themselves. At some point before that target date we need to decide
whether we are convinced that these new Member States are able
to apply the Schengen Acquis in full. The progress report concerning
the evaluations that took place in 2006 are quite positive in
the sense that a lot of progress has been made but some infrastructural
changes or adaptations still need to be done and even some laws
still need to be changed. The process is going along very well,
I would say.
Q504 Lord Teverson: Thank you very much.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: There will be a report next
week to the Council. We are preparing the conclusions on this.
Q505 Earl of Caithness: Can I turn Lord
Teverson's question round for you. Given that since the late 1990s
we knew that there was going to be an expansion of the Member
States and that Schengen would have to be improved and enlarged,
and here we are eight years later still floundering, what are
the lessons to be learned for the Commission, the Council and
the Member States in all of this? Surely we have got to find something
so that some of the horrendous mistakes that have been made do
not happen again. Is that something that you and the Presidency
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: First of all, I am not sure
that there have been huge mistakes because if you look at the
history of Schengen, Schengen has always been enlarged in steps.
If we start from the beginning, the Schengen Convention was signed
in 1990, it entered into force in 1993 and the full implementation
started in 1995. Even the original Member States needed five years
to prepare for that. For the Nordic countries, and we are good
pupils, it took four or five years as well. We signed the Schengen
Accession Agreement in December 1996 and started applying the
Schengen Acquis in March 2001. For some other Member States it
has taken up to seven or eight years to start implementing Schengen.
It has always been a two-step process. First of all you express
the will to be part of Schengen and then the process starts and
it takes X years. The new Member States acceded to the European
Union only two years ago so I think we have worked quite fast,
although it is true that we started already before accession working
with them with this ultimate goalthe full Schengen implementationin
mind. We have prepared for this decision for some years. I would
not speak about crucial mistakes in this context.
Q506 Lord Avebury: Has the Finnish Presidency
got any view about whether or not, and in what circumstances,
the UK should participate in alerts for the non-admission of third
country nationals? If you as a lawyer could imagine that there
are perceived advantages, not only for the UK but for all other
European states in having such a system which would enable more
effective management of the immigration process throughout the
whole of Europe, have you any views on how that access should
be organised legally and in practice?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: If we start with the legal
basis for all this. There are the rules in the UK protocol to
the Treaty of Amsterdam, there is a Schengen protocol to that
same Treaty, and in accordance with those rules the UK applied
for a partial application of the Schengen rules and this UK application
was dealt with in 1999 and the final decision on the UK application
was taken in 2000. In that application, and indeed the Council
finally was in favour of the UK application, and in that decision
the UK does not participate in the provisions of the Schengen
Acquis which deal with border control issues or the refusals of
entry. This is quite clear. This is the legal basis. The UK did
not apply for participation in the provisions related to the entry
to the Schengen area.
Q507 Lord Avebury: That is res
judicata, you cannot imagine any revision of that.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Unless we received an application
from the UK to participate in these provisions and then we would
deal with the application in accordance with the Treaties. As
far as the Schengen Information System is concerned, and as a
result of that basic decision on the UK Schengen application,
a filter is foreseen in the Schengen Information System so that
alerts on refusals of entry will not be used in the UK. This is
a result from that basic decision that the UK does not apply these
rules. Of course you can always ask why will we not give access
to the asylum authorities, they are not guarding the borders,
they are dealing with these issues from a different perspective,
but then you have to bear in mind that we are talking about the
Schengen area and the purpose of the alerts on refusals of entry
is to refuse entry to the Schengen area, so the reason why the
Schengen asylum authorities of some Schengen states have access
to these alerts is quite logical, but that would not be the case
for the UK asylum authorities.
Q508 Chairman: It is quite clear that
the UK position on this partial opt-in or partial opt-out has
disadvantages for the United Kingdom, you have made that very
clear. Can you just speculate a little what disadvantages does
it have for the other members?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: The Schengen system isI
can speak from five years experience of being a member of Schengenquite
an important law enforcement tool for Member States, so it is
quite regrettable that not all EU Members can fully participate
in this system. I would say for law enforcement purposes it would
be nice to have everybody in.
Q509 Chairman: For both sides?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes. It is about exchanging
Q510 Chairman: Presumably the Commission
are even now working on proposals for harmonising alerts, for
non-admission of third country nationals, rules on flagging, certain
criminal law and policing alerts, and rules on remedies in the
context of data protection. Is the Presidency actively involved
with the Commission in drawing up these proposals?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Given that it was only a few
weeks ago that we finalised this text I am not sure how far the
Commission is in its thinking. I would say that during the Finnish
Presidency nothing will happen. We are feeling relieved that we
have finalised this package. As far as the Commission proposals
you have mentioned are concerned, they were seen to be quite important
in the sense that many Member States feel we need to have a look
at these rules after the system has been functioning for a few
years. We are looking forward to dealing with those proposals,
but not during the Finnish Presidency!
Q511 Earl of Caithness: I would like
to take a slightly wider view now and make the question a bit
broader. What are your views about the interoperability of EU
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: It is an interesting question
and worth exploring, I would say. We have received, and you have
probably seen it as well, a Commission communication on this subject
which was submitted a year or so ago. The Council has not had
the possibility yet to discuss the ideas in the Commission proposal
in detail. We have addressed the issues but as we have been developing
these systems we have not started in-depth discussion about interoperability.
Of course, some basic issues need to be discussed. First of all,
we need to see if it is technically possible. Secondly, we need
to ensure that important basic rules of data protection, for instance,
will be respected. From the technical point of view there has
already been a discussion that the VIS system and SIS system would
have a common platform, for instance, so from the technical point
of view things have developed towards that goal. From the legal
point of view we need to have a look at this question on the basis
of the Commission's communication.
Q512 Lord Dubs: Can the Presidency make
available any information or statistics about the practical operation
of SIS II in Finland?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes, indeed it can. I have
those statistics with me but they are in Finnish so I decided
to ask my colleagues to send them to me in English. I was not
precise enough when I asked for those statistics. If I may, I
could send them separately.
Q513 Chairman: Would you be prepared
to send them to us?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Sure, yes.
Q514 Chairman: It would be very helpful
if you would.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: We have been in operation now
for five years. I do not know whether you would like to have an
overview of everything.
Q515 Chairman: I think it would be very
helpful to have a sort of mood view from you.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: I could provide some information
Q516 Chairman: If you have anything you
want to say now about how the SIS system is working in Finland
that would be helpful.
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Just today, because we are
discussing SIS issues every day right now, and it is the pre-Council
time and the Council next week will be an important Council from
the Schengen and SIS point of view, I discussed this with the
head of the Finnish SIRENE office and we discussed the Finnish
experiences and she confirmed that the Finnish law enforcement
authorities are very happy to be part of Schengen, it has made
international co-operation much easier and much more efficient.
Now we have a means of exchanging law enforcement data this with
each other in an efficient manner, even in structured form. SIS
includes a system of exchanging forms, for instance, so it is
very easy to see what the information is about. I am not a technical
expert but I know what these forms look like.
Q517 Chairman: Before your entry into
the European Union there was presumably quite a lot of exchange
with your Nordic neighbours at least on immigration, asylum and
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes. We felt that it was quite
important that all five Nordic countries entered Schengen at the
same time. We saw that as essential.
Q518 Chairman: Is your co-operation with
Norway affected by the fact that Norway is not a member of the
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Yes, it is. As you know, the
Council has an agreement with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland
concerning Schengen issues and they participate in the Council
Q519 Chairman: As if they were members?
Mrs Yli-Vakkuri: Let us put it this way, they
cannot take decisions. They can participate in the discussions,
they can bring forward proposals and say if they have a problem
with a certain proposal but when the formal decision is taken,
when we count the votes, they are not in that count.