EU: EU governments demand that the European Parliament rushes through mandatory finger-printing and biometric passports

- is an "urgent" decision justified?
- why does the European Parliament not question the legal basis of the measure?
- why does the parliament's draft report accept the need for biometric passports?

Statewatch has learnt that the European Parliament has been asked by the Council of the European Union (the 25 EU governments) to use its "urgency" procedure to rush through the measure on mandatory fingerprinting and biometric passports for all EU citizens at its plenary session next week (1-2 December).

The Council's letter to the parliament (Piris letter, pdf) making the request encloses the latest version of the draft proposal (Draft Regulation on biometric passports, dated 23.11.04, pdf). The letter seeks to emphasise that the original proposal was sent to the parliament in February and that the Action Plan adopted on 25 March called for the measure to be adopted by the end of the year - this is a bit rich as the Council itself substantially changed the measure on 25 October (making facial images and finger-prints mandatory). The Conference of Presidents in the European Parliament (the group leaders) will decide on Thursday 25 November, how to respond.

The European Parliament's Committee on Citizens's Freedom and Rights has agreed a report on the subject which is based on an old version of the proposal from the Council of the European Union - that is before the Council decided to change the scheme from mandatory facial images and optional fingerprinting to making both mandatory. In such circumstances, where a proposal is substantially changed, it is normally taken for granted that the Council would re-submit the revised proposal to be considered again at Committee level.

However, it is understood that "behind the scenes" the the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union (the 25 governments) are pushing hard for a decision at its plenary session in Brussels on 1-2 December on the grounds that a decision is urgently needed to meet the deadline set by the USA under its Visa Waiver Programme for:

"authentication idendifiers that comply with applicable biometric identifying standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation"

This begs a fundamental question as the ICAO standard says:

"Facial recognition was selected as the globally interoperable biometric for machine-assisted identity confirmation with MRTDs [Machine Readable Travel Documents]"

"Facial recognition" can be met by the simple digitisation of current passport photos - this is not a biometric. "Facial recognition", or "facial image" in the Council's draft, can refer either to simple digitisation or to a "facial scan" which is a biometric (the scan collects up to 1,820 characteristics from each individuals face). "Facial recognition" not fingerprints were selected as the global standard by the ICAO.

US demands can be met by the Council's old draft - mandatory facial image and optional fingerprinting - so how can the decision be termed "urgent"? The USA does not require fingerprints to be used in foreign countries passports.

More importantly the purported legal basis for the measure concerns control of the EU's external borders not the demands of a non-EU state.

Under the European Parliament's rules it is possible to take the current draft report from the Committee as a matter of "urgency" either at the request of the President of the parliament (following a request from the Council), a committee, a political group or at least 37 member of the parliament. The "debate" on an "urgency" measure is not a debate at all - it is limited to the mover, one speaker in favour, one speaker against and the chair of the committee/or the rapporteur. The decision to pass the measure under the "urgency" procedure could be announced on Wednesday 1 December and voted on


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