Ministers urge EU leaders to pursue immediate steps on EU PNR system

Ministers urge EU leaders to pursue immediate steps on EU PNR system

On Thursday, Jan. 29, at the Informal Meeting of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) in Riga, ministers discussed further steps to strengthen EU counter-terrorism measures. Following the meeting, ministers adopted the so-called Riga Joint Statement on Counter-Terrorism, which focuses mainly on four areas: identification of terrorists’ travel routes and the need for an efficient EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) system; better and more effective information sharing through amendments to the EU’s Schengen Border Code; the prevention of radicalization across Europe, in particular on social media; and the circulation of firearms and explosives across Europe.

The joint statement is considered solid input from JHA for the discussion at the Informal Meeting of the Heads of State and Government, which will take place on Feb. 12, 2015.

The creation of an effective and common EU PNR system seems to be the most critical part of the new measures ahead, in order to identify the travel routes terrorists may use. In the airline and travel industries, a PNR is a record in the database that contains the data and the itinerary for a passenger, or a group of passengers travelling together. While most EU member states have their own PNR system, due to the lack of a European legislation, it is not possible to collect PNR data on a common system and share it across Europe and overseas. In fact, the topic has been the source of heated discussions in Brussels for several years now, as the European Commission first introduced a legislative proposal in 2011. Since then, no PNR legislation has been able to win the support of the European Parliament and the issue has been stuck since April 2014, when the Parliamentary Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) voted against it. Members of the EU Parliament turned it down due to concerns that it could violate citizens’ privacy.

In Turkey, PNR data is taken as a simple reservation code. It contains a considerable amount of other information with regards to the passenger, including personal data, contact information, ticketing and fare details, credit card numbers and special service requests such as meal requirements, seating preferences, wheelchairs and other similar requests. Therefore, detailed analysis of the PNR number of a passenger leads to a complete profiling of the personal information about the passenger. In that regard, sharing personal information with other EU member states and international organizations such as Europol and Frontex might lead to the identification of regular passengers as potential threats.

A second point of discussion is the enter-exit regulations for the Schengen area. In line with the EU’s new strategy to fight against terror, ministers are urging EU leaders to make new rules pertaining to the entering and exiting conditions on EU borders with a focus on effective sharing of information related to border controls with all countries and international organizations.

Changes to Schengen border management will potentially affect Turkish citizens, who have been subject to the EU’s obligatory visa policy since the 1980s. The new measures are intended to foster stronger communications regarding border management, improve security and fight against illegal migration and terror. Therefore, it is important for the EU to ensure the right balance between personal freedoms, including freedom to travel, and security.

Social media also constitutes an important agenda point of the joint statement. To fight against radicalization, EU ministers are calling for extra measures with regards to the internet, which is the easiest medium to spread radical movements. It is therefore foreseen to strengthen cooperation with the internet industry and social media platforms, as well as to increase the role of Europol in regards to the analysis and follow-up of social media traffic.

Melih Özsöz is Deputy Secretary-General and Research Director at IKV.