I am very pleased to be with you here today for the final debate on our three proposals for a reinforced Schengen Information System.
I would like to thank wholeheartedly the rapporteurs, Mr Coelho and Mr Lenaers, the shadow rapporteurs, their teams and all those involved on this file for enabling us to have this debate today.
This agreement was a result of intense work and I would like to congratulate them for it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At the core, the Schengen Information System is about one thing: trust.
The trust to share sensitive information with EU partners.
The trust to follow up on alerts shared by EU partners.
The trust to rely on the Schengen Information System, when the security of our citizens is at stake.
The SIS today contains over 80 million alerts on wanted and missing persons and objects.
Just last year it was accessed 5,2 billion times.
Since 2013, when we have SIS in its current form, it led to 50,000 arrests, and the tracking of 200,000 serious criminals.
These numbers, are clear testament to its value for our Member States:
it is no exaggeration to say that it is the centrepiece of our security cooperation in Europe, and our most important instrument for information exchange in the EU.
It was against this background that we proposed in December 2016 to further strengthen the system.
But why change a system that performs so well?
Because with the dramatic improvements in information sharing during the past three years, a stronger SIS can open a new chapter in our cooperation on internal security and can contribute to the coherent application of the rules and principles governing the Schengen area.
The new rules will help on the effective enforcement of entry bans for third-country nationals at the external borders, by making their introduction in the SIS compulsory.
With the introduction of a new alert category for return decisions, the SIS will also provide an efficient tool for the implementation of EU policies on return.
Member States will now be obliged to enter alerts where a person or an object is sought for a terrorist offence.
The role of Europol will be strengthened, as it will now have access to ALL alerts and supplementary information exchanges, while Member States will be obliged to inform Europol of any hit on alerts related to terrorist offences.
The operational teams of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will also have their own access to SIS in order to carry out checks in the hotspots.
The new SIS will make better use of biometric data with the possibilities of using palm prints, facial images and DNA profiles in specific cases, when safeguards are met.
This will build on the Automated Fingerprint Identification System we introduced to SIS earlier this year, which already led to a 25% increase in the number of alerts containing fingerprints.
In parallel, the reinforcements of SIS will strengthen the protection of personal data, by aligning the SIS provisions with the new data protection framework.
There will be also important improvements for the work of law enforcement authorities, and strong links to our work on interoperability – which Julian will tell you about in a minute.
Interoperability, like our security initiatives on electronic evidence, explosives and terrorist content online, are urgent for the security of our citizens, and it is essential that they advance rapidly to adoption before the May elections.
What I would like to leave you with, is that with this debate and tomorrow's vote, Europe’s most widely-used security database will become even stronger.
A strengthened SIS will provide police and border guards with the information they need to do their jobs and help keep Europeans safe.
It is the most concrete example of all our work to change the culture on how we cooperate on security in the European Union.
A Europe that protects, a genuine and effective Security Union to ensure the security of our citizens.
With this in mind, I encourage you to support this important initiative when you vote tomorrow.