Sarah speaking on the European visa and Schengen information systems

October 19, 2009 5:32 PM
By Sarah Ludford in the European Parliament

Madam President, I have never had so much speaking time in one evening in all my 10 years in the European Parliament! Ten minutes in total is an unaccustomed luxury, and I am not sure I will be able to use it.

I too am grateful to Vice-President Barrot for coming to report to us on the problems, although I feel we should not have had to keep asking for those updates. Anyone who has the merest familiarity with the installation of large IT works in the public sector in their own Member State will know that all these technical and budgetary problems frequently arise. Unfortunately, however, when you have two such high-profile, big systems - the Schengen Information System (SIS) II and the visa information system (VIS) - being affected, this also affects the credibility not only of the Union's internal security - and I will come back to that later - but also of the EU's visa policy.

As rapporteur on the VIS I can say that we were under pressure to get the legislation done in time, because we wanted to press ahead with having the VIS up-and-running - as it should have been by now - and any slippage in the programme is deeply disappointing.

I would like to ask Commissioner Barrot what the implications are going to be for visa applicants. Are we going to end up with a lot of confused people, because the VIS is destined to deal with 20 million visa applications a year and delays presumably have a knock-on effect? And what about the outsourcing arrangements which are being established? You mentioned that there have been contractual penalties imposed owing to the delays in the visa information system. Could you tell us what those penalties are? What are the estimated extra costs envisaged? And could you tell us, Commissioner Barrot, whether overall you have continued confidence in the contractor, or are we looking at a potential cancellation of the contract?

This presumably also has implications for the setting-up of the agency for the common management of the SIS and VIS - and, potentially, other databases in the future. Perhaps some of the ambitions for the collection of data and large-scale surveillance systems might have to be looked at again, which would be no bad thing from the privacy point of view if we are going to have all these technical and infrastructure problems.

The last thing I wanted to ask the Commissioner is this: the current estimate is that the SIS II will be in operation in the last quarter of 2011. We can, I guess, expect some further slippage. In the summer of 2012, the Olympics are being held in London. The UK Government did not take the opportunity to go into SIS I for reasons best known to itself. It actually had quite a few years when it could have gone into SIS I but said 'oh no, no we will wait till SIS II'.

In answers to me, the Government has said that it is not worried about any implications for security. However, not only UK but also European security could be put at risk if the UK does not participate in access to the policing side - which it is allowed to do - of the Schengen Information System, by a time well ahead of the London Olympics taking place in 2012.

Could you tell us, Commissioner Barrot, what you think the implications could be for security around the Olympics, which, especially as they are being held in London, and not least in my constituency, I am concerned greatly about? I think we would all be greatly worried about the security of the Olympics. Those are a few of the questions I would like to ask you. Thank you again for coming here.

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