G6 meeting leads to renewed calls for travel surveillance

Interior ministers from the G6 group of states met at the end of June in Barcelona to discuss the structure of the G6; terrorism and radicalisation; drug trafficking in the Atlantic; irregular migration to Europe; and relations between the EU and US.

Records of the meeting show continued enthusiasm for an EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) system for the surveillance of transport.

In early July Theresa May, UK Home Secretary, submitted a written statement to the House of Commons giving a cursory overview of the discussions on 25 and 26 June.

On the structure of the G6, it was "agreed to keep the G6 in its present shape and format". Formally, the group is made up of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and the UK. At the June meeting the group was also joined by representatives of the US (James Cole, Deputy Attorney General and Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security), as well as Gil Arias (Executive Director of Frontex, appointed on 1 June 2014 as the successor to Ilkka Laitinnen) and European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström.

The discussion on terrorism and radicalisation focused on "co-operation with Northern Africa, the Sahel and Middle Eastern countries", with foreign fighters apparently a key point of discussion. In this regard:

"The importance of information sharing and the role of the EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) directive in this was agreed by all. [Theresa May] stressed the need for the wording of the draft directive to be robust and it was agreed that bilateral cooperation was essential in the interim."

A proposed directive for an EU PNR system, which would heighten the surveillance by law enforcement authorities of air passengers (and in the future possibly sea and rail passengers), was dismissed by a vote in the Parliament's civil liberties committee at the end of April 2013.

The reference to "bilateral cooperation" may refer to ongoing efforts by member states to increase information-sharing in order to detect and track suspected "foreign fighters" travelling to and from Syria. Some parts of this work have been coordinated through the Council of the EU.

Discussing drug trafficking in the Atlantic, "a number of delegates stressed the point that the use and classification of development funds must be considered to address these problems at their root." Theresa May "raised the point that the money generated by the international drug trade helped to support terrorism and that practical cooperation to address this was therefore essential."

Over a "formal dinner" on 25 June, the discussion was on "the fight against irregular immigration in Europe," with Theresa May stressing "the need for action in the countries of origin and for member states to fulfil their responsibilities for effective asylum processing and border control."

Italy's interior minister Angelino Alfano noted that the 'Mare Nostrum' operation in the Mediterranean "could not remain in place indefinitely and gave their view that it should be replaced by a European equivalent," although some had doubts "about the idea of Frontex undertaking a more operational role in the Mediterranean."

There were also "concerns" that "while the programme had undoubted humanitarian benefits, it nevertheless acted as a pull factor for migrants to the region."

Finally, over a "formal lunch" on 26 June, EU-US relations were the subject of discussion. Mass surveillance by the National Security Agency does not seem to have been a problem:

"The conversation was positive and members agreed the need for the EU and US to cooperate closely in operational joint initiatives. Specific measures such as the PNR agreement, the… Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP), and the EUROPOL-US Agreement were seen to be helpful tools to strengthen operational cooperation in common fields of interest."

The next meeting of the G6 will be in France. The date has not yet been confirmed.


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