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Brussels, 26 May 1999

Commission adopts proposal for a Regulation establishing the Eurodac system for comparison of fingerprints of asylum seekers

The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Council Regulation on a European Union (EU) system, Eurodac, for comparison of fingerprints of asylum seekers, individuals who irregularly cross an external border of a Member State and under certain circumstances persons found illegally present in a Member State. The draft Regulation is based on a Convention and a Protocol, negotiated and "frozen" by the Council of Ministers. The objective of the Eurodac Convention is to assist in determining the Member State responsible pursuant to the Dublin Convention for examining an application for asylum. In the course of negotiations the Council also agreed to extend the scope of the Convention to persons irregularly crossing an external border of a Member State. This was done in a separate Protocol. After freezing the two texts the Council asked the Commission to bring forward an EU legislative instrument, incorporating the substance of both the Convention and the Protocol. The Eurodac system provides for the establishment of a Central Unit within the Commission, which will be equipped with a computerised database for comparing fingerprints taken and submitted by the Member States. The Regulation contains detailed provisions on data use, data protection, responsibility and security to ensure that stringent standards of protection are applied.

The draft Regulation is the first EU instrument to be put forward by the Commission in the area of asylum, under Title IV of the Amsterdam Treaty. Its objective is to facilitate the application of the Dublin Convention in determining which Member State is obliged, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, to examine an asylum application. It is intended to provide all applicants for asylum with a guarantee that their applications will be examined by one of the Member States and to ensure that applicants are not referred successively from one Member State to another without having their requests examined.

To this end, a Central Unit, equipped with a computerised database for comparing the fingerprints of asylum applicants, will be established within the Commission. The Regulation provides for the fingerprints of three different groups of people to be transmitted to the Central Unit and processed within the central database:

    Applicants for asylum. The regulation creates an obligation for the Member States to take the fingerprints of applicants for asylum and to transmit them to the Central Unit. These data will immediately be compared with data already stored in the Central Unit. Matches will be transmitted to the Member State of origin for final verification and the Member States concerned will then use the evidence provided to apply the procedures of the Dublin Convention. Data will normally be stored for ten years, but will be erased in advance if the applicant for asylum obtains citizenship of the Union.

    Persons apprehended in connection with irregular crossing of an external border. Here, the Regulation also creates an obligation to take the fingerprints of persons apprehended and to transmit them to the Central Unit for comparison with fingerprints of asylum applicants. These data are stored for a maximum of two years and erased in advance if the person in question is granted a residence permit, leaves the territory of the Union or becomes a citizen of the Union.

    Persons found illegally present within the territory of a Member State. The Regulation allows the Member States, in certain circumstances, to transmit fingerprints for comparison by the Central Unit. Data relating to this group of persons are immediately destroyed as soon as the comparison within the Eurodac has been carried out.

The processing of personal data carried out by the Member States as well as by the Commission within the context of Eurodac are subject to the principles laid down in the EU Directive on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and free movement of such data (Directive 95/46/EC). The handling of data by the Central Unit will also be subject to supervision by an independent supervisory body.

Background: The Dublin Convention of 1990, to which all Member States are party, provides a mechanism for determining the State responsible for examining applications for asylum lodged in one Member State of the EU. However, the Member States considered that it would be problematic to implement the Convention solely on the basis of evidence provided by identity cards and passports. In 1991 Ministers therefore agreed that a feasibility study for an EU wide fingerprint system for asylum seekers should be undertaken. In December 1998 consensus was reached within the Council on a draft Convention setting up such a system. At the same time the Council agreed to "freeze" the text, pending the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty.

In addition, Member States also prepared a draft Protocol, which was intended to provide for the collection of data relating to persons apprehended in connection with the irregular crossing of an external border. This data would be available for the purposes of comparison with the fingerprints of people who subsequently claimed asylum in one of the Member States. Again, the Council noted consensus on the draft protocol and agreed, In March 1999, to "freeze" this text also.

The subject matter covered by the frozen texts now falls within the scope of Article 63(1)(a) of the EC Treaty. The present draft Eurodac Regulation fulfils the remit given to the Commission by the Council to bring forward after the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam a proposal for an EU instrument incorporating the frozen texts of the Convention and the Protocol.

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