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EU police database on Brussels agenda

Stewed Prüm

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The European Council has endorsed a pan-European police database that was established by a small club of countries outside the European framework last year.

The German presidency of the EU plans to push the legislation through the European Parliament by the end of its term on 30 June. It expects the proposal, for the integration of police databases across Europe, to be implemented by the end of the year.

"Our aim is to create a modern police information network for more effective crime control throughout Europe," the council said in a statement.

Austria and Germany, the core members of Prüm, opened their police DNA databases to one another in December 2006. The German Presidency declared in a statement that the two police forces had found 2,900 matches in enquiries made on each other's databases under the scheme. It did not say how many enquiries were made, nor how many of those matches were useful to police enquiries. Nor how they compared to traditional methods on either cost or results.

It did say that 32 of the 3,000 enquiries "related to homicides". Pushed for further information, the Presidency was also unable to say what the other 2,868 enquiries were about.

Prüm is two-speed Europe in action. Officials who backed the scheme said it was set-up outside the European framework to see if it worked so a more rigorous proposal could be passed to legislators in Brussels. The Prüm treaty was indeed designed to be passed into European law, but the lead members have only been operating for three months. The most significant change to the treaty since seven member states signed up to it on 27 May 2005 was that another nine countries had either signed or acceded.

The proposal the council has put forward to the Parliament is effectively the Prüm treaty. The Parliament is eager to get its hands on the proposal to give it proper scrutiny. Having been fast-tracked it has snuck in front of other proposals in Brussels' agenda that are also related to data sharing among the police and security services.

One of these, the European Framework for Data Protection in the Third Pillar, is already working its way through the sausage machine, but slowly. It proposes an over-arching data protection law to cover the police and security services that currently escape its scrutiny. It would allow some police data sharing.

Prüm has allowed member states to press ahead with their plans for a pan-European database without waiting for the necessary legal cover. It does contain data protection provisions, but critics said they were derived directly from the 1981 Council of Europe Convention 108, which was the Neanderthal predecessor of the 95/96 data protection framework.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German interior minister, was quoted in the Presidency's statement saying that the Prüm treaty contained "extensive data protection provisions which comply with the latest high standards".

One critic in Brussels said he wasn't able to bring any specific complaints to bear on the treaty's protections yet because it had yet to be examined thoroughly by the legislature.

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