Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 46 - 57)

WEDNESDAY 2 DECEMBER 1998

M. MICHEL PINAULDT

Chairman

  46.  M. Pinauldt, I should like to begin with a very warm welcome to you. Thank you very much for coming to our meeting this afternoon. I should explain we are a sub-committee of the House of Lords' Select Committee on the European Communities and our specific concern is with justice and home affairs. We have in the last few months spent quite some time examining the implications of the Schengen Agreement and the provisions in the Treaty of Amsterdam, on which we have written a substantial report which has been published and it was debated a week or so ago. We are now embarking on a further investigation, which is to see how it would affect the interests of this country if we were to seek to join the Schengen Agreement under the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam and to present our Government with some comment and advice on this subject. We do not take decisions in this Committee, we advise our colleagues in Parliament and Government on matters of policy which fall before us. We are particularly interested in trying to ascertain the way in which the Schengen Agreements work at the moment and we would like very much to ask you one or two questions if we may about your experience on that subject. I do not know if you would like to make some initial statement about your own personal role? For us, the role of a préfet on the K4 Committee is a little beyond our comprehension.
  (M. Pinauldt)  Thank you, Mr Chairman, my Lords. First of all, I have to apologise for my very poor and very bad English. That is why I need the help of Mrs Wilson, especially when we will come to talk about very serious things. The second thing I have to stress is that maybe for the first time a préfet of the French Republic is received in this prestigious House and I am very impressed and I feel it like a great honour, and I thank you very much. What is my function in France, in Paris? First of all, I am working in SGC, that means the general secretariat for the question of European co-operation. This committee was created 50 years ago, exactly 50 years ago. At the very beginning it was created for the management of the Marshall Plan help. With the following of the European co-operation it became the committee for the followings of the OEEC and then the committee for the implementation of the Rome Treaty, and now this committee has in charge the whole European co-operation from the French side. This committee is referring to the Prime Minister. Our role is in Paris to co-ordinate the positions and the policies of the French Ministers; to reach a common position to negotiate for the negotiation process in Brussels. When this common position is expressed we have to notify it to our Permanent Representative in Brussels and he has to abide by this instruction. In the specific field of justice and home affairs the role of this general secretariat is also to negotiate directly in Brussels. So in Paris we co-ordinate, and in the K4 Committee I am leading the French delegation and also in the central group of Schengen I am leading the French delegation. So I am on both sides, in Paris and in Brussels. Why is a préfet in charge of this special field? I guess it is because at the very beginning of the Schengen co-operation in which the French Ministry for Interior Affairs, the French Home Office, had a leading role in the negotiation of the Schengen Agreements, then he gave the charge of this agreement to a préfet, and when the third pillar of the European Community was created by the Treaty of Maastricht it appeared more convenient to mix Schengen and the Union under the same authority, that is the authority of the préfet of Schengen. That is why I am here now, ready to answer your questions, and again I must apologise for my very poor English.

  47.  Thank you very much. I repeat our welcome. Some of us have in fact been to meetings in the Senate as members of the COSAC where we were very warmly greeted, so it is a pleasure to reciprocate the greeting to you. Perhaps I could begin with a rather precise question but it is on a fairly general subject and that is, how in your experience you view the working of the free movement of persons under the Schengen Accord and has this been accomplished without giving you any cause for anxiety or worry about the legitimate control which you have over the movement of foreigners into France?

  A. Would you allow me now to speak in French?

  48.  Naturellement.

  A.   (Evidence given through an Interpreter)   Thank you very much. I would like to give you an answer in two parts, first of all with regard to the way in which public opinion reacted to the opening up of the borders and secondly the reaction of the security services. First of all, with regard to public opinion there was really no serious effect on public opinion from the opening up of the borders. In France this has not given rise to any particular concern because there are no longer external border controls. In the centre of France, and of course France is a large country unlike Belgium or Luxembourg, the fact that there are no external border controls has not really had any effect on their daily lives at all. With regard to the people who live closer to our borders there has been much more of a positive reaction, in fact, because they have tended to see a positive effect from these new measures. Particularly in the areas where the population is at its densest around the northern borders, the borders in Alsace and Rhône-Alpes, in other words the borders with Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and so on, we have a flow of workers going from France into these other countries to work. Therefore, they have found it somewhat easier to carry out their work as a result of this abolition of border controls. As far as the security services were concerned there were concerns which were more real because the way that they used to work has been completely changed by the abolition of border controls. The security services were used to having fixed border posts that were properly set up with the necessary facilities to carry out border checks, they were used to covering a limited amount of terrain which they were very familiar with and practically overnight they had to change their working method finding that they no longer had fixed border posts to deal with but were rather on the move, moving much more into the hinterland to carry out checks. Finally, and this is of course very much a part of the Schengen arrangements, the change in working method meant that our security services in France had to develop relationships of trust with the security services across the border in the other countries and gradually over a period of time through an exchange of information, through exchanges of officials, they have had to familiarise themselves with the way in which the other security services operate in order to ensure and feel comfortable with the fact that what they are giving up is being taken over properly and carried out properly by the security services in the other countries.

  49.  Thank you. The last part of your reply is very relevant to some of the evidence that we have received from our own authorities on this matter. They say that they are very apprehensive about the effects of abandoning the strict controls at the frontiers because, unlike you, we have no method of following the movements of people in the country once they are inside our frontiers. We do not have identity cards, we do not have a system of registration of civilian addresses, you do not have to give an address if you stay in an hotel for example. The abandonment of our external frontiers would leave us with very little control over the movements of persons which we might wish to know about. Of course, you do have systems of internal controls, you do have identity cards, so I assume that the opening of your frontiers has not presented you with the kinds of problems which our own police authorities fear, although I do notice there have been occasions on which the French Government has decided to reimpose control on the northern frontier, for example, I think in connection with drug trafficking with the Netherlands. If you have any impressions to give us about your feelings and the ability to control illegal activity, please do. I notice what you say about intelligence but does the extra work that you do in this field make up for the loss of knowledge which you gain by abandoning the external controls?

  A.  I will come back in a moment, if I may, to the question of identity cards and the technical resources and means that we have to check identity. To begin with I would like to talk more about the means we have at our disposal in order to control illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is not made up simply of people coming through the border points where they might be discovered to be illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration also occurs within the territory of a country. There are people who are residing in the country who are not legally there, perhaps because they came in legally but over-stayed their legal right to stay, perhaps because they came in illegally by some means. Where these people are living in the country in an irregular fashion they must find a way to live and this of course leads to a certain amount of illegal work, to non-declared work, to tax evasion, to social security fraud and so on, and it is by checks in these different areas, tax, social security and so on, that it is possible to discover the presence of illegal immigrants. So it is not simply a question of checking the border points, and I would like to continue with that line of thought if I may. With regard to the borders themselves, the way that it used to work was that we had border posts with specialist customs officials, police, and within the country we had the ordinary police forces who were not really co-ordinated. With the abolition of controls under the Schengen Agreement we have replaced our controls in the border areas with internal controls along the border lines and we have organised a more co-operative form of work between the various groups, between the customs officials, the police and so on, in order to make mobile forms of checking more effective right along the 20 km strip within the borders. We have found that this is just as effective as the means we used before, if we look at efficiency in terms of the number of people questioned or in terms of the number of illegal objects which are seized, for example drugs.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  50.  I wonder whether I could revert, Lord Chairman, to the question that you were asking in a slightly different way? My impression has always been, as someone who once had the pleasure of being a student in France, that the French, long before even the very beginning of the Common Market, before you had the freedom of movement, always had a high degree of regulation within the borders at a time when the British relied entirely upon their geography, that they were an island, and regarded a high degree of internal regulation as somehow contrary to basic freedoms and civil liberties. Clearly there were many more controls in place when I lived in France in 1957 compared with the situation in this country. If that is right, is the position that Schengen has not made a huge amount of difference to the effectiveness of border control in France, other than the ways which have been described by M. Pinauldt, because there always was in place a pretty effective system of internal regulation? If that is correct, then is the position so far as we British are concerned that we have to make a choice, if ever we decide to go into Schengen, which is to have more internal regulation, including identity cards, as the price for absence of border control and the privilege of travelling elsewhere entirely free of restrictions? Is that the kind of choice that we have to make, which the French did not have to make in as dramatic a form because France always had a high degree of internal regulation? I do not know whether my question is clear.

  A.   It is perfectly clear. I think that the high degree of regulation in France is rather a relative concept. I can remember a time when you did not absolutely have to have an identity card in France and to get one you simply had to go to the police station or the town hall with two witnesses and you would be given an identity card, so it was not something which was very strictly controlled. It is true, however, that the regulations are much tougher now than they used to be in that regard. With regard to the Schengen Agreements, an individual crossing an internal border within the Schengen area has to be able to justify their identity according to the rules applying in the country into which they are going as they cross the border. So that if there were no border controls between France and Britain, British people coming into France would still have to show some form of identity, probably a passport for Britain, and French people going into the UK would have to show a form of identity, and that could be an identity card as we have it in France. But each country still has to be able to check the identity of the people within their borders.

  51.  Can I just ask one follow up. Am I right then in thinking that it follows from the evidence that the French immigration and security services have not found any measurable problem created by Schengen in detecting illegal immigration and crime as a result of the absence of border controls? Is that the position?

  A.   It could be said like that, yes.

Chairman

  52.  Can you kindly answer a question of fact for me. I had always supposed that it was compulsory in France to have an identity card but some newspaper reports I have read in this country suggest that is not so. Is it compulsory for a citizen in France to have an identity card?

  A.   Today, yes, you do have to have an identity card in France but, in fact, the whole technical aspect of identity cards in France has changed in the last three years because nowadays we have an identity card which cannot be forged. It is a card which is laminated in plastic and the photograph of the individual is embedded in the plastic card. It is used as an identity card but it also bears witness to the nationality of the person, it shows that they are of French nationality. Whenever a French individual comes along and asks for a new identity card or wants to renew their identity card we ask them to bring along proof of their French nationality. At times this has been misunderstood particularly by people who have been French for generations but it is a means whereby we can show that we have French nationality. It is now used as identification not only for administrative purposes but also in commercial transactions.

Earl of Dundee

  53.  I think M. Pinauldt is advising us of the opinion that in France the Schengen system is working well and that there are no adverse effects from the removal of external controls, but nevertheless there must be some measurable difference in crime detection comparing the moment when the Schengen system started to work and before it started to work. What figures are there or what approaches, what methodologies, comparing the previous position with the first position which can be communicated in a way which we can understand so that although, as Lord Lester has said, our position in the United Kingdom may be entirely different because we do not have the level of internal controls that you do, what methodology might you be able to draw to our attention which will help us to understand the cause and effect of the matter?

  A.   If I could perhaps just make one remark which I did not make before. The internal controls in France have only been abolished, in fact, at the land point of entry and airports, we do not have the abolition of controls in the ports. We still carry out identity checks there because we cannot be sure of the origin of the ships which reach our ports and, therefore, it is still possible to carry out controls. We have statistics with regard to entries by sea and by air but we do not have such statistics for entry at land points. That was just to point out again the differences that can exist between the situation in France and the United Kingdom. Because we are not very well informed about the number of people crossing the borders by land entry there may be concern about how effective our fight against cross-border crime is and that is the question that you are addressing here. I think we need to remember that the Schengen Convention did not do away with the forms of co-operation between the police and the courts which already existed, there was already mutual assistance in order to pursue criminals across the borders. The Schengen Convention has allowed us to improve the means and procedures which we already had and to go beyond the bilateral agreements that we had with neighbouring countries. We have been able to generalise procedures and that has proved extremely useful with regard to the seeking and pursuing of criminals beyond our borders, especially in terms of surveillance and pursuits across the border with neighbouring countries. One thing which has been extremely useful and which is proving its use more and more day by day is the use and access of the Schengen Information System. Perhaps I was not clear about one point in what I said just now. When I was talking about controls through ports and airports and so on, we have not kept internal controls so much as the possibility of counting people coming in and out, so it is possible to count the number of passages and entrants at the ports and airports but we do not have the possibility of counting entrants at the internal land borders. We do of course have the possibility of counting with regard to the external land border, especially obviously people crossing in and out of Switzerland.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  54.  Two of the anxieties which people in this country have expressed about the system which we have not yet covered are, first of all, what happens in countries, unlike France, which may be less efficient, less effective in dealing with illegal immigration from outside the Schengen area? You mentioned before the need for mutual confidence, that each Schengen country is to be trusted to pull its weight to keep the criteria, so there is some anxiety amongst some in this country that there may be countries, as I say, not as effective. That is an argument which speaks for stricter controls around fortress Schengen, around fortress Europe, around the whole perimeter. The other side of that is that there is also an anxiety from another group, especially ethnic minorities, people of colour, that by strengthening the perimeter around the Schengen system and allowing under the information system the collection of information about people's ethnicity, their ethnic origins, which the Schengen system allows, this will actually encourage racial discrimination and therefore be unfair. I wonder whether—and I know these are difficult questions—M. Pinauldt could address these two different kinds of concern, one that it is not tough enough because there are weak countries, and the other that it is too tough and therefore unfair in its operation?

  A.  It is a very difficult question. First of all, I will answer the point about countries which may appear to be too weak in protecting the external borders of the Schengen area, and because it is in the news we could immediately think of Greece. The first thing I would say is that it is true that the Schengen Convention puts responsibility for the external borders on some of the Schengen states and they have the responsibility therefore of carrying out controls and supervising these borders, but the Convention also gives them the means to back up this responsibility and to carry it out properly. When we, for example, carry out checks in the border area between France and Italy and we find on questioning some of the entrants that they are illegal entrants, we can send these people back to the country from which they have come, Italy, by invoking the clause of non-admission in the Schengen Convention. Of course that sometimes happens to France, when Germany sends back people to France who wish to enter Germany. It would appear that one is always the weaker of two in this regard. The other point I would raise in this connection is that there is also a mutual checking-up by one state on another, or by all the states on one of them. If there appears to be one weak Schengen state then the others will tend to pressurise that state to try to get it to improve its levels of security. We have seen that in the case of Italy, for example, where at the beginning of the year Italy was forced to change its law on immigration and to make its legal system tougher to move it in the direction of the Schengen Convention. I think we will see a similar effect in Greece, because in fact Greece has been encouraged to strengthen its border controls and it has in fact made a commitment to recruit an additional 1,000 border officials in order to carry out better control of its external land borders and its main ports. That is what I would say in answer to your first question and I will go on to give an answer to the second part of your question. I would just like to add one point. The question is on the table today because of the possibility of Greece becoming a part of the free movement area. This is a question which is obviously going to be much more acute when we have the new members coming into the European Union from Central and Eastern Europe. Because of the effects of the Amsterdam Treaty they will automatically be able to be part of the Schengen area. We believe that we must ensure that we have the means to have an effective control of the future external border of the Schengen area. Therefore, last September the Schengen authorities decided that they would set up a permanent application committee which has a dual function. First of all with regard to existing Member States its role is to make sure that the levels of security are proper and appropriate in order to maintain proper control over the borders. Secondly, the role is to ensure that candidate members of the European Union will satisfy all the conditions necessary to make it possible to abolish internal controls within the new area of the European Union. The decision was taken last September in order to create a new Schengen acquis with regard to the new candidate members because of course we do have concerns that the levels of security will not be adequate.

Chairman

  55.  Thank you very much. If I could ask you one further general question which I feel probably ought to be our last one looking at the clock. This concerns the bilateral co-operation between Britain and France on these subjects which is extremely important to us. You are our closest neighbour rivalled only perhaps by Ireland. We attach much importance to the smooth co-operation between our two authorities on questions of border controls and illegal immigration. Do you feel from your vantage point that this is working satisfactorily? Would it be easier for us to collaborate closely together if Britain were to become a member of the Schengen system? Would we find it easier to have access to information on the Schengen Information System? Any general observations you may have on this topic would be of very great interest to us.

  A.   I would say that at the present time we have a very satisfactory working relationship with Great Britain with regard to the usual instruments that are at our disposal: police co-operation and mutual assistance of the courts. It is true to say that if the United Kingdom were to opt into the Schengen acquis that would make the work easier, easier in terms of the right to pursue, the right to control and survey, extradition for legal reasons, decisions of non-admission of entrants and so on. These decisions would be taken more quickly and more easily if the United Kingdom were part of the Schengen Agreement. I would say that the situation has been changed to quite a large extent by the fact that between Britain and France we now have the Channel Tunnel. As long as we only had entrants through airports and through sea ports it was relatively easy to ensure good co-operation in what is quite a limited area but with the Channel Tunnel we now have a great extension of areas of possible co-operation and we would only see advantages if Great Britain were to opt into the Schengen acquis. However, it does seem to me that perhaps in the question you asked there was another question behind it and I do hope I am not misinterpreting you if I take that to be so, but it seems to me the question could also be would there be advantages and a positive effect for the Schengen Agreement if the United Kingdom were to opt into the Schengen acquis and I would say, yes, there would be a positive effect.

  56.  I did not, in fact, have the second question in mind but I am grateful for your comment.

  A.   I think that opting into the Schengen Information System would not just be sufficient. I think the general view is that Schengen constitutes a whole and you cannot just opt into the Information System without also accepting all the other procedures which are part of the application agreement of the Schengen Convention. Schengen is felt to be a coherent whole which cannot be broken down into its constituent parts.

Chairman:  I think that is a very important observation. Lord Lester, you felt there was one question that remains unanswered.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  57.  M. Pinauldt never managed to deal with the second one which was the fear of ethnic minorities. Liberal people believe that it will be an illiberal and over-restrictive system.

  A.   It is impossible to escape the difficulty. Racial issues and questions of ethnic minorities are not in fact part of the Schengen Convention. The files within the context of the Schengen system do not mention racial or ethnic origin. In terms of France, in French law we do not have either any basis for referring to race or ethnic origin; none of the legal or administrative procedures have a basis for taking race or skin colour or whatever into account. So I do not think we can put the question in those terms. However, it is also true that these issues do raise the question of cultural community and with that approach you have a much more sociological approach and a less legalistic approach. That I think is where we can situate the real problem, because immigration is not something which is general and impersonal but it tends to have a movement where immigrants are tending to gather together and to increase a community which is already there, at least in embryonic form, so for example we see this concentration of Yugoslavs and Kosovors in Germany and a concentration of people from North Africa in France, people from Cape Verde congregating together in parts of Southern France, and so on. That is an issue which really needs to be dealt with, but it has several facets. On the one hand you have the question of border controls in order to try and control this immigration, but you also have the issue of preventing immigration in the country of origin, and that is a priority issue for the European Union rather than the Schengen Convention. It is a matter for the European Union Common Foreign Policy and I am sure you are familiar with the proposals which have been made by the Austrian Presidency with regard to immigration strategy and the proposals coming from our Dutch colleagues about an integrated immigration plan for each individual Member State of the European Union.

Chairman:  I fear we must draw the session to a close, but may I thank you very much, M. Pinauldt for the frank and complete way in which you have answered our questions, which have been a great benefit to the Committee. May we also thank the services of your interpreter who has been commendably precise and efficient. Thank you very much indeed.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill:  My Lord Chairman, I do not think the witnesses should walk through the Royal Gallery because there they will see some extremely offensive pictures of Waterloo and Trafalgar!

Chairman:  I am afraid that is a hazard which affects visitors both ways, for instance those who go to the Gare d'Austerlitz!


 
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