DRESDEN, Germany – The top law enforcement officials in the European Union backed efforts Monday to give police across the bloc access to national databases containing fingerprints, DNA samples and license plate information.
Despite concerns by some officials over allowing other national police forces direct access to their databases, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said there was "broad consensus" among all 27 EU governments to expand an existing seven-nation data-sharing pact to include all members.
Schaeuble said a similar data-sharing accord could be signed between the EU and the U.S. as part of expanded efforts to track down terror groups and serious crime suspects.
"It's quite new for one member state to have access to databases from their opposite numbers," said Schaeuble, who chaired a two-day meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Dresden.
"If we are talking about guaranteeing security, combatting terrorism and so on, we wish to cooperate closely with our American partners."
The existing seven-nation pact, signed in May 2005, includes Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Austria. It allows police in those countries direct access to genetic records, fingerprints and traffic offenses in the other members' databases.
Several EU members expressed concerns over the cost of adapting their databases, but Schaeuble said Germany only spent $1.3 million to open its system to the other six nations in the pact.
Austrian Interior Minister Guenter Platter said the agreement has made cross-border investigations easier by speeding up the transfer of information. Platter and Schaeuble said that German and Austrian police have had 3,000 successful DNA matches in national databases of unsolved crimes since December.
Schaeuble said he hoped to be able to include the data-sharing pact into EU law by the end of Germany's six-month presidency in June.
Separately, EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini pressed member nations to provide ships and planes to patrol the bloc's southern frontier to deter new flows of illegal migrants from Africa in the coming months.
He called on EU members to honor commitments made last year to establish permanent patrols in the Mediterranean Sea and off Africa's Atlantic coast to deter migrants from attempting the dangerous sea voyage to Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants tried to reach European shores last year, mostly in Spain's Canary Islands and Italy. Many drowned in rickety boats.
Spain said it took in some 31,000 migrants last year, most of them from Africa — almost as many as in the previous four years combined.
Frattini said he would soon launch negotiations with countries like Mali, Senegal and Mauritania to establish legal networks for drawing skilled African workers to Europe. These deals would include mandatory repatriation of illegal migrants from Europe.