On the March 4th the Belgian city of Bruges hosted a conference called “Preparation of the Stockholm Programme – JHA Strategic Agenda“, which took place under the auspices of the “presidency trio” of France, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. The Czech Republic was represented by a delegation of the Ministry of the Interior led by the Minister, Ivan Langer.
Ivan Langer started his visit by holding a speech on the academic ground of Collège d’Europe: “I feel honoured to meet you here on academic ground to discuss the future content of the document which will become essential for the direction of justice and home affairs in the following years. We are preparing this future multi-year programme for ourselves, for our citizens, and for our children, in whose lives I would like things like freedom, safety, and justice to be a matter of course.“
During discussions in work groups the Czech delegation emphasised that the Stockholm Programme must be more specific in comparison with the Haag Programme. It should include fewer political statements and more specific, effective, and more elaborate goals. The Minister of the Interior pointed out the necessity of looking for a balance between privacy protection, safety, and the freedom of the movement of people.
The Stockholm Programme, whose preparation was the main content of the discussions, determines the priorities and goals in the area of the EU’s internal safety for the period of 2010-2014 and it continues the Haag Programme approved by the European Council in November 2004. After the terrorist attacks in the United States on
September 11, 2001 and in Madrid on March 11, 2004 the Haag Programme defined the new priorities of the EU in order to ensure more effective common approach to cross-border problems, such as terrorism, organized crime, people-trafficking or illegal border-crossing guides.
Since the Haag Programme became effective a lot of things have, of course, changed, there have been new challenges and new facts. The number of the European Union members has increased to twenty-seven and it is very probable that in the next few years it will expand by even more members (Croatia); new member states have entered Schengen, the possible ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is being considered, and we have also gained experience from how the Haag Programme worked in practice. All these facts are counted on in the preparation of the new Stockholm Programme.
Within the work on its preparation a lot of important issues are being discussed, such as, for example, the development of integrated border control, the completion of a common European asylum system, and the development of a common migration system. The Stockholm Programme is also a big chance for the implementation of a joint visa policy, especially of a new Visa Code. In the area of police cooperation there should be an increase in the possibilities of cooperation among national police forces in the fight against organized crime, terrorism, and drugs. The position of EUROPOL should also be consolidated, which is a strategic priority of the Czech Presidency. EUROPOL could become a contact point on a European level for solving particular cases, and it could also provide background for joint investigation teams.
|Switzerland is going to become the 25th country in the common Schengen area. After the ground frontier checks were cancelled on December 12, 2008, passport controls will also be cancelled at international airports for flights within the Schengen area. Passport checks will only remain for flights outside Schengen.
Switzerland’s entry was conditioned by its meeting a lot of Schengen standards concerning frontier checks procedures or the infrastructure of airports. The verification was carried out by a team of experts, including a representative of the Czech Presidency, in the second week of February. It was concluded that Switzerland was prepared to take responsibility for the protection of the Schengen area. A celebration of this event will be taking place on March 27 and the Czech Minister of the Interior, Ivan Langer, will be participating in it. The process of Switzerland’s entry will be officially finished on March 29.
The first third of the Czech Presidency is over. How would you personally evaluate it?
So far, I must say I see the course of the Czech Presidency as very positive from all possible points of view. The biggest satisfaction for me personally is the performance and evaluation of my mostly young colleagues. Their individual involvement and gradually growing reputation in both the foreground and background of the presidential teams are not only very important on a personal level, but they also increase the prestige of the Ministry of the Interior and of the Czech Republic as a whole. Conscientious preparation and high level of expertise in the individual specializations bring their fruit and form a good foundation for the future. On a factual level I must note that the first two months clearly showed how important the previous involvement was, as well as the common ministerial strategy. My co-workers, as well as other colleagues from the Ministry, have successfully managed to deal with the surprises brought by the previous Presidency, and as a team they have distinctly started their way to the successful fulfilment of the goals and priorities of the Czech Presidency.
In spring, there will be a ministerial conference – the largest event organized by the Ministry of the Interior as far as scope is concerned. The whole event will be prepared by the team of the Department of Asylum and Migration Policy. How are the preparations for this important event advancing?
The preparation of the conference called “Building Migration Partnership” is advancing fully in accordance with the plan approved by the Minister of the Interior a year ago within our preparation work for our EU Presidency. The ministerial conference – which will be attended by ministers responsible for managing migration from a total of 49 countries from the EU, Schengen, the Commonwealth of Independent States, western Balkan, Turkey, the European Commission, and international organizations – will be taking place in Prague at the end of April. Its main objective is to strengthen mutual relationships in migration management in order to build a real partnership, including common measures for the fight against illegal migration and returns, and to support legal migration and integration and the use of the potential of migration for the development of third countries.
The preparation has been in progress continuously since 2007, when during the German Presidency, with the support from the Czech Republic, the external relationships policy of the EU, which was called the Global Approach to Migration from the Mediterranean and Africa, was extended to the regions that border on the EU on the east and south-east. Last November the final stage
|of the preparation was begun based on three preparatory meetings which define the content of this new migration partnership. The first meeting in Prague unanimously supported the presidential initiative, which enabled a discussion about the common declaration at the second preparatory meeting in Antalya, Turkey, this February. The third preparatory meeting in Bucurest at the end of March should complete the discussions about this document.
However, our work does not end with the ministerial conference or with the end of the Czech presidency because it is necessary to put its conclusions into practice. For this reason the Ministry of the Interior applied for a grant. At the end of last year the project was evaluated by the European Commission as one of the best projects submitted.
The second generation of the Schengen Information System, SIS II, is currently being intensively developed. What stage is it at? What do you think about its future?
The development of SIS II is currently at a kind of crossroads. On the one hand, it is being examined whether it is possible to continue its development now that the tests which were carried out at the end of last year confirmed a lot of significant difficulties in its development. On the other hand, launching the new generation of SIS is a crucial priority - that is why it is being examined whether it is possible to finish the SIS II development based on the system currently in use (SIS1+). At the moment, it’s hard for me to make any judgments about the future of the current SIS II project. The ministers will have decided by the beginning of June whether the development of SIS II can continue based on the existing project or whether we will activate the solution which is currently regarded as a backup. Regardless of which solution is approved, there is a clear obligation of the EU to ensure such completion of SIS II which fully uses modern technologies and whose new functionalities will contribute to the safety of the common area without frontier checks.
After its long hesitation, Switzerland, though not a member of the EU, decided to enter the Schengen area. From March 2009 passengers will not have to go through passport control at airports. How do you evaluate this step?
I see the completion of extending Schengen by Switzerland as a definite benefit for the free movement of people within Europe. An “island” is going to disappear from the map of Schengen. This highlights the different systems which are in force in Switzerland and in the surrounding Schengen states. Although Switzerland is not a member of the EU, its joining the Schengen area definitely reflects the importance of cooperation within Schengen and its undeniable contribution to free movement as well as to security. Switzerland’s entering Schengen is also an appreciation of the preparation of Swiss authorities for meeting the Schengen standards, which Switzerland had to prove.