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Opinion Number: CDR 3534/2013
Rapporteur: COSTA António
Commission: CIVEX
Status: Adopted
Date: 29/11/2013
 
The proposed new evaluation mechanism foresees a leading role for the Commission in the planning and implementing of Schengen evaluations. Here an important innovation of the proposals is the possibility for evaluation teams composed of Commission and member state experts to conduct both announced and unannounced on site visits to a national border control point as part of an evaluation procedure. According to the proposals the Commission is also responsible for the decision for specific measures to be adopted in cases of “serious deficiencies” by a member state when carrying out external border control or return procedures. For instance, in the case of “serious deficiencies” following an evaluation, the Commission could request a member state to implement measures as far-reaching as closing a specific border-crossing point for a limited period or request the deployment of ‘European Border Guard Teams’ under the coordination of Frontex. The proposals also allocate an important ‘fact-finding role’ to EU Home Affairs agencies such as Frontex and Europol.
Concerning the reintroduction of internal border controls, the proposed Regulation envisages a new EU coordinated mechanism ensuring a ‘Union-level response’ and stipulating that reintroduction of controls “should be based on a decision proposed and adopted by the Commission” via comitology (implementing acts). This would replace the current system by which the reintroduction of checks relies on a unilateral decision by national governments required only to inform the Commission and Parliament.
The proposal foresees two scenarios which could justify reintroducing internal checks (and thus grounds for derogation of a member state's duty to safeguard free movement): the first, a ‘serious threat to public policy or internal security’; the second, as a response to a member state's ‘serious and persistent failure to adequately protect a part of the EU’s external border’
THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

- welcomes the fact that the Member States and the Commission are given joint responsibility under the new Schengen evaluation mechanism, so that the system is no longer purely intergovernmental, which could help to offset the shortcomings and build mutual trust; it likewise welcomes the fact that this is being extended to all aspects of the Schengen acquis, including the absence of controls at internal borders, so as to prevent illegal checks undermining the principle of free movement of persons;

- recognises that collection of a substantial amount of personal data, including biometric data, creates particular tension between these systems and fundamental rights, especially the rights to privacy and protection of personal data, which require strict purpose limitation for these systems and checks on their necessity and proportionality;

- notes the opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), which has criticised the Smart Borders package, disputing its necessity and proportionality, as there is no reliable evidence justifying the need for new systems. In particular, the EDPS feels that the EES constitutes interference in the right to privacy; at stake is the cost-effectiveness of the system in financial terms and in relation to fundamental rights;

- regrets that the multi-level governance dimension is not taken into sufficient consideration in the EU political debates on the Schengen area, while for the subsidiarity principle to be implemented properly more systematic integration of the local and regional dimensions is required;

- calls for greater involvement of local and regional authorities and of the Committee of the Regions, to ensure a bottom-up approach in these areas, helping to ensure that the experience and concerns of local and regional authorities are taken into account in the various phases of the EU decision-making process, in particular regarding the reintroduction of internal border controls, the efficiency and added value of EU financing and the multi-level governance component of the Smart Borders package;

- notes that EU financing for external border management focuses on security, neglecting the issue of fundamental rights, and therefore calls for local and regional authorities to be given a greater role in defining the EU's budgetary priorities in the field of border management and the funding of immigration and asylum policy, ensuring that financial resources are channelled into the border infrastructure and services that most need support in this area;
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