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Europe pushes ahead with unified database agency

The European Council has given the go-ahead to a planned agency that will oversee justice and security databases, covering asylum seekers, biometrics and visa applications
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

A plan to set up an agency to manage large IT systems across the European Union has taken a step forward, after the Council of Ministers gave its approval to the scheme.

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The European Council has backed plans for a unified agency to manage large IT systems across the European Union.

The Council, which consists of representatives of member states, said on Friday it will back the scheme if it gains further approval from the European Parliament. The as-yet-unnamed agency would take over the operational management of three major and related databases: the second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), the Visa Information System (VIS) and the Eurodac fingerprint-comparison system.

According to the approval document (PDF), which was released after a two-day Council meeting on justice and home affairs, the aim is for the new agency to start work in the summer of 2012. It will be based in Tallinn, Estonia, although development and operational management tasks will be carried out in Strasbourg, France. A back-up site will be established in the Austrian ski resort town of Sankt Johann im Pongau.

The Schengen Information System is a database used by many EU countries to share information on individuals and lost or stolen goods. SIS II, which will be able to handle new types of information, is scheduled to start work in early 2013.

The other two big databases are already operational. The Visa Information System includes biometric and other information related to visa applications, while Eurodac — which stands for 'European Dactyloscopy' — is an automated fingerprint identification system used to identify asylum seekers and irregular border crossers.

The European Commission first proposed a unified management authority for the three databases in June 2009, arguing that the move would create economies of scale and the best utilisation of people and systems.

According to the document published on Friday, the new agency "might also be made responsible for the preparation, development and operational management of additional large-scale IT systems" that are planned for the same field, although new legislation and impact assessments would be needed to allow this to happen.

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