Italy: Policy shift as Italy signs up to the Prüm Treaty

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On 4 July 2006 in Berlin, the Italian Interior Minister, Giuliano Amato, and his German counterpart Wolfgang Schäuble signed a joint declaration whereby Italy declares its intention to join the Prüm Treaty. This was signed on 25 May 2005 by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and The Netherlands, which seeks to establish an infrastructure to step up cross-border cooperation, particularly to combat terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

This would make Italy the first country to join this multi-lateral treaty, marking a clear shift from the policy of Amato's predecessor, Giuseppe Pisanu, who expressed his reservations when he was in office in response to a question by Amato as to why Italy had not taken part in the initiative, although he did not rule out Italy joining it in the future. Pisanu's reservations ranged from structural aspects - the fact that Italy does not have legislation for the establishment of a DNA database, to policy issues: the use of air marshals on flights, which he described as not being suited to "our methodology in the field of security, which… mainly rests upon prevention", and the absence of a clear legal framework - exchanges of personal information would have to be subject to two international agreements that had not yet been ratified by Italy.

In an appearance before the Italian parliament's Commission on constitutional affairs on 20 June 2006, Amato stated his intention to speed up the process of Italy joining the Prüm Treaty (aka Schengen III), expressing his surprise at Italy not having been invited to take part in the process from the start: "because we are part of the informal group known as 5+1 that has the maximum level of operative integration, including on the matter of security, within the European Union". He acknowledged the problem of having to establish a DNA database, but argued that the fact that they would be alphanumeric codes rather than biological samples, and that they would be used "to increase our security", rather than "to harm us", means that this development would not violate privacy rights as well as being "in our interest".

Although it is presented as a largely uncontroversial issue to advance police cooperation in the field of security between the member states that are signatories, the Prüm Treaty marks an important watershed, because it regulates new practices (unprecedented in some countries, like the deployment of air marshals), decreeing that they must be developed with a view to implementing a high degree of information exchange between national police forces, which is not limited to terrorism or serious crime. It requires contracting parties to establish DNA profile databases, which the other contracting parties will be able to check on request for the purpose of prosecuting criminal activity, and to be able to run automatic comparisons of fingerprints in partner countries' fingerprint databases, when an individual is identified, for both the prosecution and "prevention" of criminal activity. The treaty allows cooperation and the exchange of personal data in relation to political demonstrations and other mass events and to prevent terrorist attacks, regulates the deployment of air marshals on commercial flights and of immigration liaison officers (ILOs) in countries of origin or transit, establishing national contact points to coordinate the activity of ILOs, and authorises the carrying out of joint deportations (a practice which has already been carried out on a number of occasions outside of the Prüm framework - it thus provides legal backing to existing practices).

The Prüm Convention also widens the scope for cross-border policing giving officers from partner countries executive powers to carry out arrests or participate in public order duties in exceptional circumstances (again, extending practices that already existing at a bilateral level, such as the German-Swiss police treaty of 1999, see Statewatch news onli

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