On 19th January, the European Commission put forward a proposal aiming to facilitate the exchange of non-EU citizens’ criminal records in the EU by upgrading the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). Part of the European Agenda on Security, the aim is to reinforce cooperation between national authorities, in particular in the context of the fight against terrorism and cross-border crime.
The ECRIS is a tool which enables national judicial authorities to exchange information – around 288,000 requests per year – on criminal convictions in other Member States, either for court proceedings or other purposes such as criminal investigations. While the system works well for information on EU citizens, the lack of a central database for non- EU nationals has proven more problematic. Therefore, in order to enable Member States to act in the face of new threats and prevent non-European criminals from simply “escaping” their past by moving from country to country, the Commission is proposing to modify the way in which data on non-EU citizens is stored.
Countries looking for criminal information on a non-EU citizen currently have to send out individual requests to each Member State, which can be particularly time-consuming and costly. If the new proposal is accepted, in an effort to speed up this process and reduce the administrative burden, a central database will be put in place, meaning that Member States will simply have to carry out a search in the system. Moreover, the Commission has suggested including fingerprint data, with the aim of making it more difficult for criminals to employ false identities when operating in different countries.
The Commission hopes that by simplifying the system and increasing the amount of data available, Member States will be encouraged to use and update the system more frequently, making them better equipped to deal with criminal proceedings and able to act more quickly and effectively against criminal and terrorist activity. The Commission has also suggested that these changes will be beneficial for non-EU nationals looking for work, as, if required, it will be much easier for them to prove that they have a clean criminal record.
Commenting on the adoption of the proposal, Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said:
“The Paris attacks in November confirmed the urgent need for more robust and seamless judicial cooperation throughout the EU. ECRIS is an important tool against cross-border crime, as it enables Member States to exchange information on previous convictions anywhere in the EU. Today we propose to upgrade this tool to ensure easier access to the convictions of non-EU citizens. Judges, prosecutors or the police will be better equipped for EU-wide cooperation that will guarantee the security of all citizens throughout the EU.”
Commissioner Jourová will now present the proposal to the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council on 26th January, before further discussions will be held by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. With the Paris attacks still looming large in Europeans’ minds, it seems unlikely that the proposal will be met with much resistance from the Member States, particularly following sharp criticism of the information and intelligence-sharing systems currently in place. Nevertheless, well-established political and national divisions on matters such as data protection could put a spanner in the works. It is therefore likely that the proposal’s successful adoption will depend – at least in part – on the extent to which the Commissioner is able to convince ministers of its necessity at the upcoming Council meeting, the first, key step in establishing its opinion.