EU ministers back centralisation of population databases

Just the one agency dear

A single agency will be in charge of three EU population-tracking databases under plans approved by EU ministers.

The Council of Ministers have backed the creation of a centralised European agency that will manage the Schengen Information System (SIS), the Visa Information System (VIS) and the European Dactyloscopy (EURODAC), the Council said.

The SIS allows countries to share information about people, such as whether there is a request for extradition out against them, or whether they are suspected of committing serious crimes. The database also contains information on lost or stolen goods, such as vehicles, firearms or identity papers. An upgraded version of the database is expected in 2013 which will contain new types of data and will be managed by the new agency if it is given final approval.

The VIS database aims to help countries prevent criminals from fraudulently using visas belonging to others. It stores biometric data related to visa applications, such as finger prints, and allows law enforcement agencies to check the identity of visa holders.

EURODAC is an automated system used by all EU countries to record and compare the fingerprints of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

The Council said that a "decisive political agreement" had been reached to back plans for a new agency to be set up by the summer of 2012 to manage the three databases. A proposed regulation drawn up by the European Parliament to establish the new agency receives Ministers' support, the Council said in a statement.

"The presidency is now in a position to confirm to the European Parliament that, should the Parliament adopt its position at first reading in the exact form as set out in the compromise text, the Council will approve the Parliament's position in a future meeting," the Council statement said.

The new agency should ensure that EU countries have access to the databases at all times, observe a high level of data protection and make sure that the information stored is secure, the draft regulation provides.

If established, the agency could become responsible for more EU databases, the Council said.

"The agency will also be responsible for the management of any other IT systems which might be developed in the area of freedom, security and justice in the future," the Council statement said.

The new agency, which has yet to be named, will be based in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, although some functions relating to the agency's development and day-to-day management will be carried out in Strasbourg in France, the Council said. A back-up site will exist in Sankt Johann im Pongau, Austria, it said.

Plans for a centralised agency to control EU databases were first announced in 2009 by the European Commission. The Commission, the Parliament, the Council of Ministers and individual countries have since argued over the contents of the regulation needed to legally establish the organisation.

See:

* The Council of Ministers' statement (page 7 of 38-page / 176KB PDF)

* The draft regulation for establishing a new European database management agency (43-page /268KB PDF)

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