May 16, 2017 by Fiachra
You probably haven’t heard, but in September 2016 the European Commission issued Letters of Notification to Ireland over our Government’s failure to implement the Prüm Framework. If Ireland doesn’t implement it soon, we will have to start paying fines.
Wait… What is the Prüm Framework?
If you never heard about the “Prüm Framework”, you’re not alone. It started life as a relatively unknown treaty, named after an equally unknown town in western Germany. Despite these inauspicious origins, it is one of the cornerstones of the EU’s counter-terrorism regime. The original treaty was called the “Prüm Convention”, signed by seven EU member states outside the EU framework. A number of other countries, including Ireland, expressed interest in joining – and in 2008 the Council of the European Union’s Prüm Decision made core provisions of the Convention part of EU law. With that, the “Prüm Framework” was born.
Sounds complicated… Why don’t you just tell me what it is?
Simply put, the Prüm Framework is intended to facilitate data-sharing between EU member states. Under previous arrangements, if another EU Police Force wanted access to data on a suspect which was held by An Garda Síochána, they would have to make a written request, and maybe even apply for court approval. The Prüm Framework obliges member states to establish databases which store fingerprint, DNA and vehicle owner registration data. These databases would be searchable by police forces in other member states, and it is intended to speed up investigations into cross-border crime and terrorism.
Why does this matter now?
The recent spate of terrorist attacks have pushed the EU to take a more aggressive approach to security policy in general. Commission President Junker has made security policy the cornerstone of his “political” Commission, and the feedback from member states has so far been positive. Alongside new policies, directives and regulations, a renewed emphasis has been placed on implementing commitments already agreed to, and this includes the Prüm Framework.
You see the deadline for getting Prüm operational was 2011, was 6 years ago. So far Ireland, Italy, Greece and Croatia have failed to set up at least two of the databases. Croatia only joined the EU in 2011, so they have some excuse. But the general consensus is that Ireland, Italy and Greece need to hurry up.
So Ireland might be in trouble?
Simply put, yes. In 2014, the Commission got the powers it had been promised under the Lisbon Treaty to enforce EU law in police and judicial cooperation matters. In 2015, the Commisssion published the European Agenda on Security in response to the growing terrorist threat. The EAS is sort of like the Commission’s security manifesto, and lists all the measures it intends to take to clamp down on cross-border crime, terrorism and illegal migration. The Commission stated pretty unequivocally that it intended to launch infringement proceedings against member states that failed to implement Prüm, including Ireland.
To be fair, they waited a whole year before actually issuing so-called “Letters of Notification” to Ireland and the other laggards. Ireland has a choice now to either comply, or prepare to pay the fine that will eventually be coming its way.
So why didn’t Ireland implement Prüm?
It’s fair to say that security isn’t a major concern for Ireland, at least since the Good Friday Agreement. We have no land border with any country other than the UK, with whom we have strong bilateral ties, and we’re not in the Schengen Area so we still have border controls. This might partially explain the general lack of urgency by the government to move on this issue. But the other reason is that implementing the Prüm Framework would have contravened domestic data protection laws. Allowing other police forces to sarch your fingerprint, DNA and VOR data assumes that you trust them to use it appropriately – so a new legal framework is needed. And you have to remember that before 2015, Ireland didn’t even have a DNA database.
Now in case you start cursing the Brussels Bureaucrats, I can assure you that this is 100% Ireland’s fault. If we had an issue with any of this, we had plenty of opportunities to raise it. Firstly, we could have vetoed the Prüm Decision or sought opt-outs – like we already have for the Schengen Agreement. If we agreed to Prüm with no intention to implement it, then we shouldn’t have given the Commission enforcment powers over policing and security in the Lisbon Treaty.
What is most bizarre (or predictable, if you are a cynic) is that the Irish Government, politicians and the media have been completely silent about all of this, from start to finish. If you didn’t have a clue that this was coming down the tracks, feel free to contact any journalists, TDs and Senators you know and demand an explanation. Maybe they’ll be just as confused as you.
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