EU to create world's biggest bio-data pool
13.06.2007 – 09:29 CET |
By Renata Goldirova
The EU Observer
The EU bloc has taken the final step towards having the world's largest biometric database with 70 million sets of fingerprints, designed to boost border security by allowing EU states to share data on short-stay visas and visa applications from non-EU citizens who wish to enter the Schengen free-travel zone.
On Tuesday (12 June), EU interior minister gave their backing to the so-called visa information system (VIS), which stores fingerprints and photos of people applying or holding a Schengen visa, and accessed by EU states participating in the Schengen free-travel zone as well as by the European police office, Europol.
The new system will “offer a new practical tool both for consulates and border checkpoints,” to stop and apprehend criminals or terrorists at the bloc's external borders, EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said, according to AP.
He added that the aim is to make the visa information system operational by spring 2009.
Currently, people from over one hundred countries are required to have a visa issued by an EU state before they enter the Schengen borderless area.
The newly-born database is designed to beef up border security and prevent what is known as visa shopping – when an applicant who is refused a visa by one Schengen country applies to others.
Lot of words, no deeds
This sense of cooperation all but disappeared however when it came to the issue of immigration.
EU state Malta had called for a burden-sharing and solidarity system regarding illegal immigrants.
The small island, with 400,000 inhabitants, has been overwhelmed by migrants crossing over from North Africa to Europe with some 7,000 people being picked up in waters off its coast in the last five years.
“It is only fair those immigrants who are saved are distributed on a rotational basis between the 27 EU member states”, the Maltese interior minister Tonio Borg was cited as saying by AFP.
Mr Borg suggested that “temporarily those immigrants should go to the nearest European state until they are transferred to the designated country of destination” – the country of destination would be decided according to its size and population.
But Mr Borg's ambitious call met with strong opposition from his colleagues, with the French minister for immigration and national identity, Brice Hortefeux, saying “it seems very difficult. I do not see, technically, how we could do that”.
Similar worries have been raised by the European Commission and the German EU presidency.
“I do not see how we can share out illegal migrants. It would give a bad signal to say – you can come, we will save you, we will distribute you among ourselves”, commissioner Frattini's spokesperson said, according to the International Herald Tribune, hinting a proposal could act as a magnet for migrants.
German interior minister Wolfgang Schauble said there would be a “long road” before an agreement is reached.