Sarah speaks to the European Parliament about the Schengen agreement

October 19, 2009 6:00 PM
By Sarah Ludford MEP in the European Parliament

Mr President, our colleague Mr Coelho has yet again justified his middle name: Carlos 'Schengen' Coelho. He is our resident expert on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and we are very grateful for his work and his expertise. He has done very good forensic reports on these proposals and they highlight what an awful muddle the European Union is in regarding monitoring and evaluation.

It certainly makes no sense to me that fitness to join the Schengen zone should lie exclusively in the hands of the Member States in any case, irrespective of any arcane split between pre- and post-Schengen accession. We are told in the Commission proposal for the regulation that 'as evaluation before putting into effect is fundamental for Member States in order to gain mutual trust, it seems reasonable for this to remain the responsibility of Member States'. But we do not leave it to Member States to evaluate the Balkan countries, for which this evening the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs will vote on their fitness for visa waiver, for visa-free travel - it is the Commission which does the assessment and evaluation, so there is no consistency at all in saying that it should be in the hands of the Member States to judge other states.

To be honest, I do not grasp this peculiar split between evaluation of 'putting into effect' measures necessary to join Schengen, which according to the Commission has to remain intergovernmental, and checking the 'implementation' of the Schengen acquis. Certainly it appears that the Member States do not do a very good job because we learn from the proposal for a decision that 'in recent years Member States have not seen the need to carry out evaluations on the spot concerning judicial cooperation in criminal matters and drugs. Data protection has also not always been subject to on-site evaluations.' I think there are many people not only in this House but beyond who would think that issues to do with criminal cooperation, drugs, tackling drug smuggling and protection of privacy are rather important matters to have on-the-spot inspections about. So I entirely support the conclusions of Carlos Coelho that we need to bring all this together, to have a consolidation of the procedures by which this evaluation is done, to consolidate the task between the first and the third pillar - and I hope that soon the phrase 'third pillar' will be consigned to history and I never have to say it again - to have one simple, effective, efficient and transparent evaluation and to ensure that the transparency includes accountability to the European Parliament.

It is most strange that at this juncture, on the eve of what I am now convinced will be the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty - and I did my bit in the UK House of Lords last year, by the way - the Commission should put forward this extremely muddled and senseless set of proposals. I support the rejection and I request the Commission to come back with a better proposal that takes account of the Lisbon Treaty, takes account of codecision, takes account of simplicity and effectiveness in monitoring and is consistent with the Commission's and Parliament's responsibilities in other areas.

It begs the whole question of the way peer review is done in this European Union of the 27 Member States. As I say, that bares looking at, including in the human rights area, because we do not seem to have any clear principles and structures and simply adopt different things in different areas. Much as I love the Member States, I am afraid they often adopt a practice of 'I'll scratch your back and you scratch mine', which means they do not criticise each other, so actually they are not good people to evaluate each other. The Commission, when it works at its best, is the one to do it.

As I have a few seconds left I would like to challenge Mr Bradbourn from the ECR Group on an issue of free movement. He called for a global ban on so-called 'naked body scanners'. It would have helped if he had been at the vote last year when his colleagues opposed a ban on the use of these body scanners without a fundamental review of human rights. His colleagues voted against that ban. Mr Bradbourn was not even present at the vote, so it is a bit rich for him to go on about it now.

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