MEPs on the European Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee have approved a proposal by the European Commission to extend the transition period for the second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). SIS II is to provide increased security at the European Union’s external borders by giving member states’ law enforcement agencies access to relevant data, for example, biometric data such as fingerprints.
The system is, however, years behind schedule. EU member states decided in 2001 that SIS II should be operational by 2006 and asked the Commission to manage its development. In 2008, legal instruments were adopted to govern the migration. Since they expire on 30 June 2010, the Commission was forced to seek an extension of the legal basis for SIS II, which requires a consultation with the Parliament.
Today (27 April), MEPs approved a report written by Carlos Coelho, a centre-right Portuguese MEP, that supports the extension, and the full Parliament is to vote on the report in on 2 May.
Coelho said after today’s vote that it was “essential” to maintain Parliamentary scrutiny of the system migration. He said that the Parliament should be “fully informed on the test results before issuing a favourable opinion” in the future.
A test in March ended with the system breaking down but was declared a success by the Commission, whose experts said that the member states had fed too many data into the system. Last Friday (23 April), following a meeting of member states’ interior ministers in Brussels, Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, said that the first milestone for the SIS II system had been “successfully passed”. She said that “most experts” believed that the system was working and insisted that the Commission had done everything demanded by the member states. It is not clear when the second milestone test might be held.
The system is being developed by a consortium led by Steria, a French company, and Hewlett-Packard Belgium, with overall project management in the hands of the Commission. Officials estimate that the project has cost between €80 million and €90m to date, instead of the €16m originally set aside.
While many member states are determined to continue with the development of the system, others are far more critical. Austria, France and Germany have now demanded that Malmström present a new schedule and cost estimates for the project in June. A member state diplomat said that Malmström was conscious of the problem she had inherited from the previous Commission.
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