EU Home Affairs Ministers discussed concrete actions the EU can take in the justice and home affairs area to address the security crisis in the Sahel/Maghreb region of Africa on the first day of the meeting of the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels today. Ministers also set 9 April 2013 as the “go live” date for the Schengen Information System (SIS II).
Ministers heard a comprehensive presentation by the EU counter terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kirchove, on the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel/Maghreb region of North Africa. Ministers’ discussions focused on the concrete actions which the EU can take to tackle terrorism and organised crime and the ways justice and home affairs assets can best be utilised as part of the wider capacity building efforts in which the EU is engaged in the Sahel/Maghreb region.
Minister Shatter - The Schengen free travel area facilitates ease of movement throughout the area but is only possible when supported by fast and effective data sharing and cooperation by Member State authorities to ensure that criminals and illegal immigrants cannot exploit the system.
Under Ireland’s EU Presidency, the Justice and Home Affairs Council is chaired by Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD.
Following the meeting, Minister Shatter said:
“The Sahel region continues to be a serious cause for concern. It is important that the EU response to the crisis is coordinated taking account of the security situation, which we were discussing here today, humanitarian reliefs and the long-term stability of the region.”
The Council reverted to the issue of the Schengen accession of Romania and Bulgaria, as requested by the European Council in December 2012. It recalled the outcome of the European Council meeting in December 2012 as well as all relevant conclusions of previous European Councils and of the JHA Council.
The Council decided to address this issue again by the end of 2013 with a view to considering the way forward on the basis of a two step approach.
New proposals on Smart Borders and the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II) were also discussed. Ministers agreed that SIS II, a large scale EU database, will come into operation on 9 April 2013.
Speaking after the Council, Minister Shatter said:
“The new Schengen Information System, known as SIS II, will significantly enhance the systems for information exchange between law enforcement and border security authorities across the Member States. The Schengen free travel area facilitates ease of movement throughout the area but is only possible when supported by fast and effective data sharing and cooperation by Member State authorities to ensure that criminals and illegal immigrants cannot exploit the system.”
The Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) comprises Justice and Home Affairs (including Immigration) Ministers from the 27 EU Member States. In the margins of the JHA Council a Mixed Committee also meets, which includes non-EU States that participate in the Schengen area, to discuss issues pertaining to that acquis.
The Schengen area comprises 22 EU Member States (all except Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, the United Kingdom and Ireland) and 4 non-EU States (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).