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Swiss support police access to Schengen data

Access to the Schengen visa database is to be granted to police Keystone

Switzerland, participating in its first meeting of the Schengen treaty mixed committee, has supported moves to give police access to data arising from visas.

But it was agreed at the summit, held in Brussels on Thursday, that the decision was subject to data protection rules being respected.

Switzerland is not yet a member of the Schengen/Dublin treaty on cross-border crime and asylum, but was attending in its capacity as a potential member state.

The treaty has been approved by parliament, but rightwing opponents are collecting signatures in a bid to challenge the accord. A referendum is widely expected to take place on June 5.

The meeting of justice and interior ministers from Schengen countries was held to consider how to use a new centralised visa database.

A cornerstone of the treaty’s security measures, the database – still in its planning phase – is aimed at helping enforce a common visa policy as well as combating visa fraud.

Citizens from non-Schengen countries are currently obliged to request a visa from a Schengen country consulate before travelling or moving to Europe.

Information from these visas – which is slated to include biometric data such as fingerprints and will be held on all applicants whether successful or not – is due to be stored in the database.

Police access

Members decided to back a German proposal to allow police access to the database, known as the Visa Information System (VIS).

“VIS is an instrument for the internal security of the Schengen area,” said Bernhard Marfurt, the Swiss ambassador to the EU, who represented Switzerland at the meeting.

But he added that the regulations for using the database, which have yet to be drawn up, should clearly state that data protection rules would apply.

Marfurt said that Switzerland intended to take part in the process of working out and implementing the rules.

The European Commission originally planned to keep the data for visa-use only, with access given to migration authorities.

But the German government – currently under fire over a visa scandal that allowed an influx of criminals into the EU – called for the scope of the data to be extended to the fight against crime and terrorism.

The meeting also agreed on a proposal to add biometric data to residence permits given to foreigners.

swissinfo with agencies

The Schengen/Dublin treaty forms part of the second set of bilateral accords between Switzerland and the EU.

Schengen/Dublin is opposed by the People’s Party as well as the isolationist Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland.

If enough signatures are collected, a nationwide referendum will take place on June 5 this year.

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