EU ministers agree on passenger name record laws

Passenger data will be available to countries’ security services for up to six months

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald  and German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere at the start of Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels. Photograph: Laurent Dubrule/EPA

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald and German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere at the start of Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels. Photograph: Laurent Dubrule/EPA

 

EU justice ministers reached a breakthrough on contentious passenger name record legislation in Brussels on Friday.

However, a decision on the reintroduction of internal border controls in the Schengen area as a means of tackling the refugee crisis was deferred until at least the end of the month.

EU member states reached an agreement with the European Parliament on so-called Passenger Name Records (PNR) legislation, which will oblige airlines to submit data relating to passengers to governments in a bid to clamp down on terrorism. The legislation has been highly controversial, amid concerns from the European Parliament that it could infringe on citizens’ privacy rights.

Compromise

Under a compromise agreement thrashed out on Friday in Brussels, data on passengers will be available to countries’ security services for up to six months. While France had been pushing for a 12-month time frame, the compromise represents a significant concession from the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, which initially proposed a 30-day period, but had shifted its position in recent negotiations to three months.

“If we want to be effective against terrorists we do need to have that kind of information shared and available to our police where necessary.”

The agreement was reached as the European Union tries to forge a collective response to the bloc’s security challenge, following the revelation that many of the perpetrators of the Paris terrorist attacks three weeks ago travelled unnoticed throughout the EU.

Ministers also considered a proposal to allow member states to reimpose passport checks at internal borders for up to two years. Senior EU figures have warned that the Schengen free travel area is in danger of collapse, as member states implement passport checks at their borders, creating queues at border crossings across the bloc.

Representatives of the EU’s 28 member states were summoned to Brussels on Friday by the European Commission to be briefed on new plans for a resettlement plan that would see EU countries resettle refugees directly from Turkey. However, Ms Fitzgerald said no decision had been made on Ireland’s participation in such a scheme.

Existing commitment

“Our primary focus is implementing the commitment we’ve made at this point in terms of the 4,000 refugees and migrants [we are accepting] over two years,” she said, noting that the discussions on a resettlement scheme were still very tenuous.

Germany has been leading calls for a resettlement programme that would see refugees in refugee camps in Turkey being transferred to Europe, but a significant number of member states are opposed to the idea.

The European Union has struggled to cope with a refugee crisis that has seen more than a million irregular migrants enter the bloc this year according to some estimates, exposing deep-seated divisions within the bloc about how to handle the crisis.