28 March 2012
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Discussions on allowing Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area of border-free travel may have been postponed until December, but the EU's law enforcement authorities will soon start benefitting from easier access to fingerprint and vehicle registration data from the two countries as they move towards fully implementing the Prüm Decisions.
The Prüm Decisions (Council Decisions 2008/615/JHA and 2008/616/JHA, named after the town in which the original treaties were signed) mandate the exchange of DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data (VRD) amongst EU member states. They also permit the exchange of personal data for the prevention of terrorist offences and for joint police operations.
Last year a Statewatch analysis noted the ongoing difficulties states have had with implementing the "complex, technologically fraught and expensive" Decisions, which are ultimately intended to "overcome lengthy mutual legal assistance bureaucratic procedures by establishing a single national contact point as an electronic interface for automated information exchange." 
The adoption of positive reports on Romania's readiness to exchange fingerprints and Bulgaria's readiness to exchange VRD shows that it may be easier for the personal data of Romanians and Bulgarians to cross the EU's internal borders than it is for citizens of the two Black Sea countries.
On 25 March, the Working Party on Data Protection and Information Exchange (DAPIX) recommended to the Council that it permit the exchange of fingerprint data between Romanian and other EU authorities.
An "overall evaluation report on dactyloscopic [fingerprint] data exchange for Romania," undertaken by a team from Austria, announced that "the implementation of the Prüm/dactyloscopic data-information flow, both on a legal and on a technical level, has been done up to a satisfactory level in Romania." 
"All conditions are met for Romania to start the exchange of dactyloscopic data pursuant to Council Decision 2008/615/JHA," says the report.
No date has yet been set for the next JHA Council meeting when it will have to approve the draft Decision. When it does so, Romania will become a part of the networked national systems that ease the exchange of fingerprint data amongst European law enforcement authorities.
It seems likely that at the same Council meeting, Bulgaria's vehicle registration databases will official become part of the Prüm network.
A recent document summarises the outcome of a visit by a joint Dutch and Belgian evaluation team which concluded that "for the purposes of automated searching of vehicle registration data (VRD), Bulgaria has fully implemented the general provisions on data protection of Chapter 6 of Decision 2008/615/JHA." 
Romania has been exchanging vehicle registration data with other EU member states since 2011 and both countries also exchange DNA data with a number of EU countries. Bulgaria is able to exchange DNA profiles with Slovenia, Austria, the Netherlands and France, while Romania is connected to the systems of Austria, the Netherlands, Slovenia, France, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and Spain, and is conducting tests with Cyprus and Estonia.
Bulgaria is also part of the Prüm network for exchanging fingerprint data and is connected to Austria, Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Lithuania, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Cyprus.
However, it may be possible for one member state to obtain fingerprint data from another even if the two do not have a direct connection by using a state with which they both have connections as an intermediary. The extent to which this practice may or may not take place is, however, unknown.
It seems likely that the next JHA Council meeting will also authorise the exchange of Prüm data from countries other than Bulgaria and Romania. Council Decisions have been drawn up that, when agreed, will permit Sweden to exchange DNA data and Malta to exchange DNA and fingerprint data.
- "Complex, technologically fraught and expensive" - the problematic implementation of the Prüm Decisions by Chris Jones, March 2012
- “Network with errors”: Europe’s emerging web of DNA databases by Eric Topfer, March 2011
- Searching for Needles in an ever expanding haystack: Cross-border DNA exchange in the wake of the Prüm Treaty by Eric Topfer, September 2008
 "Complex, technologically fraught and expensive" - the problematic implementation of the Prüm Decisions by Chris Jones, March 2012
 Presidency, "Prüm Decisions" - overall evaluation report on dactyloscopic data exchange for Romania, 25 March 2013, 7824/13; Presidency, Draft Council Decision on the launch of automated data exchange with regard to dactyloscopic data in Romania, 25 March 2013 7826/13
 Presidency, Draft Council Decision on the launch of automated data exchange with regard to Vehicle Registration Data (VRD) in Bulgaria, 26 March 2013, 7942/13
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