EU ministers discuss anti-terrorism measures, open borders

28th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

European Union justice and interior ministers gathered to discuss plans to share out airline passengers' data in a bid to prevent terrorists from entering the 27-member bloc

Brdo, Slovenia (dpa) - European Union justice and interior ministers gathered in Slovenia on Friday to discuss plans to share out airline passengers' data in a bid to prevent terrorists from entering the 27-member bloc.

The so-called European Passenger Name Record (PNR) would be modelled according to a similar system introduced by the United States in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

"Terrorism remains the number one threat," said European Commission vice-president Franco Frattini upon his arrival in Brdo, an estate near the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.

Frattini, who holds the justice and security portfolio and first floated the idea over the summer, said a European PNR was "absolutely necessary" and should therefore be adopted "as soon as possible."

But his plans have been met with resistance from civil liberties' advocates, who fear that collecting details about a person's travel arrangements in and out of the EU would violate their privacy.

Details about a traveller's airline ticket, including how it was paid for, would be shared among all EU member states, as well as with third countries such as the US.

The EU insists it will not divulge sensitive information about a traveller's ethnic origins or political and religious beliefs. But concerns remain nevertheless.

And some member states are even questioning whether there is a real need for a European PNR.

"We should first evaluate whether such a system is necessary. Maybe it isn't that good to collect so much information," said Luxembourg's minister of justice, Luc Frieden.

Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said ministers would be discussing the European PNR over lunch.

Mate said ministers would be informed about similar PNR systems already in place in Britain, France and Denmark.

"We will see what the willingness of the member states is, and we will prepare plans for further discussions according to their responses," Mate said.

Ministers attending the two-day informal meeting in Brdo also planned to review the outcome of the recent enlargement of Europe's borderless area.

Nine new countries, most of them from eastern Europe, joined the so-called Schengen agreement in December amid concerns that its expansion would make it easier for criminals and illegal immigrants to enter the bloc.

Such concerns have been felt particularly in Germany, where there have been widespread reports about scores of Chechen refugees with asylum status in Poland crossing its eastern border.

But Frattini hailed the successes of the enlarged Schengen area, noting that the programme's shared database on criminals had since lead to the arrest of "some 100 suspects" in the new member states.

Frattini added that the influx of Chechen refugees into Germany and Austria showed that there was a pressing need for a common EU policy on asylums, another issue due to be debated by ministers in Brdo.


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