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European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
Building a centre for excellence in IT systems
Inaugural Management Board meeting of the European Agency for the Operational Management of large-scale information systems in the area of freedom, security and justice
Tallinn, 22 March 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to address the first management board meeting of the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale information systems in the area of freedom, security and justice.
The level of representation here today bears witness to the great importance we all attach to this new agency and its mandate.
Let me start by expressing my appreciation to the Estonian Government for their availability to host the Agency and their efforts to support its smooth establishment here in Tallinn. I also want to thank the very dedicated team of officials in the Commission who have prepared for the past 6 months every aspect of this Agency's set-up.
But why is it, in fact, that we are establishing this agency? The Council and European Parliament have often given mixed signals about existing agencies. And we are living in difficult economic times that call for concerted efforts to limit public spending. So what made the Commission propose such an Agency and what made the Member States and the Parliament adopt the proposal in a relatively fast and straightforward legislative process?
The answer lies in the very mandate of this Agency, in the core tasks that it is expected to carry out. With justice and home affairs becoming an integral part of the European Union's policy agenda under the Lisbon Treaty, and with free movement across internal borders becoming a fact of life for our citizens, the Commission embarked on an ambitious project to equip the Union and its area of freedom, justice and security with the tools needed to be effective and secure whilst respecting individuals' fundamental rights.
Among these tools, both the Commission and the Member States saw the exchange of information among competent national authorities as one of the key building blocks of an efficient cooperation at Union level and for establishing the trust that is the very fibre of the Schengen system. We have decided together, Commission and Member States, that modern IT technologies are the most effective platforms for facilitating such information exchange. It started with the first Schengen Information System, then continued with EURODAC, followed by the Visa Information System and the second generation SIS II.
But once developed – and we know this is not always straightforward - these new IT systems need to be operated, maintained and kept technologically up to date. Moreover, given the sensitive nature of the data that they process, an adequate institutional and legal framework had to be put in place to guarantee the highest standards of security and data protection. And last but not least, such systems cannot be allowed to shut down, not even for a matter of minutes, or else the effects across Europe would be immediate and would be significant.
To serve these objectives, it was recognised, in a joint statement of the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament of December 2006, that an Agency would be best equipped to guarantee the right balance of institutional safeguards, specialisation and legitimacy towards end users.
But how does the Agency fit now with the economic and political context in our Union? Does it still respond to those policy objectives laid down almost 6 years ago?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I think it does. And I also think it is up to you, and the future Executive Director, to steer the work of the Agency towards achieving the high level of expectations that we all have of it.
In times of economic crisis it is essential that the Agency gives proof of its added value, cost-effectiveness and sound financial management.
And if we look at the policy developments of the last year alone, the new challenges around Europe's borders, as well as those within its borders, call more than ever for effective border management and cooperation among our respective authorities.
This Agency must therefore become quickly the centre of excellence that we all want it to be, with mechanisms in place for tracking the most promising technological trends, identifying ways of applying them in its own operations and ensuring their implementation in close cooperation with stakeholders.
The Agency should also be able to develop future IT systems which will allow the European Union to cope with, I hope, increasing flows of people in an ever globalising world.
For the Agency to achieve its objectives, it must work hand in hand with key partners such as the European Commission, Member States and other agencies in our policy area.
Let me also underline the importance of the European Parliament. The Parliament will be one of the most attentive scrutinisers of your work and, especially, of the way you will spend taxpayer's money and how this money will translate into visible and measurable results. Hence, I recommend that you give a strategic importance to the Parliament in your work.
Let me conclude. The expectations are high. The tasks are many. And priorities need to be set. The real impact of the Agency will depend on its ability to respond quickly to expectations and to deliver on time and on budget.
From my side, let me reassure you that the Commission will continue to lend its support to the Agency in order to achieve its ambitions. I am confident that you will be successful in taking up these challenges. And I invite each of you to play your part as representatives of the Member States in this Board, exercising your newly received mandates wisely, and with the interest of the European citizen in mind.