EU: EU governments blackmail European Parliament into quick adoption of its report on biometric passports

- the Council of the European Union (the 25 governments) has told the parliament it can have full powers of "co-decision" after it adopts its report on biometric passports

- how many national parliaments were re-consulted after the decision to make fingerprinting mandatory?

- the costs are completely unknown and the "details" will be decided in a secret committee

- the EU has no legal powers to introduce such a Regulation

The Council of the European Union (the 25 governments) has told the European Parliament that it will not bring the changes due under the Amsterdam Treaty - which would extend its powers of "co-decision" (Article 251) to cover measures like biometric passports - until it adopts its report on biometric passports.

The new powers of co-decision would cover the exact legal basis (Article 62.2.a) under which the introduction biometric passports are being proposed. If the new powers for the parliament were to be agreed in December - and they could be as the draft Decision was published by the Council on 23 November and there are a number of meetings of Council of Ministers before the end of the year - then the parliament could seek to substantially amend the proposal and the Council would have to sit down and negotiate with the parliament.

Under the existing procedure, "consultation", the views of the parliament are simply ignored by the Council. The adoption of the report on biometric passports by the European Parliament under the "consultation" procedure is thus a routine legal step that has to be completed before the Council can go ahead and adopt the measure formally.

Last week the Council wrote to the parliament urging them to adopt their report quickly - but behind the scenes the Council was calling on the parliament to adopt their report (from rapporteur Coelho) on biometric passports under the "urgency procedure" in the plenary session on 1-2 December with the offer to extend co-decision in January.

The Council's demand was even more extraordinary because the draft measure considered by the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights was based on a previous version which said that facial images were mandatory and fingerprinting optional. In June a group of governments tried to make both biometrics mandatory but failed. They returned to the fray after a meeting of the so-called "G5" group (UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain) in the summer and at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 25 October and pushed through mandatory fingerprinting for passports. The governments demanding mandatory fingerprinting were: Italy, Germany, France, Greece, Spain, Malta, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia only Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia oppose the move.

In normal circumstances with a significant change to a proposed measure - changing optional to mandatory finger-printing affecting millions upon millions of EU citizens - the Council would have re-presented a new draft and the matter would have been returned to the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights for its view (only when the Committee adopted a new draft Resolution would the matter have gone to the plenary session).

However, it appears that the parliament's Conference of Presidents (the party group leaders) will agree on Monday 29 November that this change is not significant enough to require re-consultation. This will allow the existing report by Mr Coelho (rapporteur) to be considered at a plenary session where the parliament will be "informed" of the Council's new draft - it is expected that the parliament will amend the Coelho report to express its opposition to mandatory finger-printing. When the parliament's report is adopted in an amended form the Council will, as usual, ignore the content of the report and formally adopt the measure at the next available meeting of the Council of Ministers. The parliament has two plenary sessions, one on 1-2 December in Brussels and a further plenary session in Strasbourg on 13-16 D


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