Cablegate: Estonia Prepares for Schengen Implementation

Published: Thu 26 Oct 2006 03:03 PM
DE RUEHTL #0974/01 2991503
R 261503Z OCT 06
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary: GOE officials expect implementation of the
Schengen Agreement to be delayed until early 2009, because
of a delay in the European Commission's introduction of the
second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). In
preparation for accession, the GOE is focused on bringing
border control and police cooperation into compliance with
Schengen standards. Timing depends in part on the GOE's
ability to finish construction of a new terminal in Tallinn
Airport by the end of 2008. The GOE has directed more than
half of the assistance it has received from the EU Schengen
Facility toward upgrading border guard capabilities. End
Estonia's Preparation and Evaluation
2. In May 2006, EU officials began conducting assessments
of Estonia's preparedness to meet Schengen requirements in
four areas: air borders, visas, police cooperation and
personal data protection. (Note: The date for the EU's
evaluation of Estonian compliance with SIS has not yet been
scheduled. End note.) According to Jaanus Kirikmae,
Director General, Consular Department of the MFA, EU
assessments have been "positive" and Estonia is in a "good
position to implement Schengen." It is expected that for
Estonia, all evaluation reports will be completed by this
December (with the exception of SIS) when the EU's Justice
and Home Affairs Council plans to review the reports for
all of the countries wanting to fully implement Schengen.
3. Air borders is the only sector where the GOE may have
difficulty in meeting its timetable. Estonia needs to
build a separate terminal at the Tallinn Airport that will
allow for the separation of travel to and from Schengen and
non-Schengen countries. MFA and Ministry of Interior
Officials could not confirm the specific schedule for
construction, but highlighted that the aim is to have the
new terminal built by the end of 2008.
4. Estonia has received 76 million Euros (USD 95 million)
from the EU Schengen Facility for the period 2004-2006.
While the GOE has established 86 objectives in preparation
for Schengen implementation, its priority is upgrading
border guard capabilities and equipment. 46 million Euros
(USD 58 million) have been dedicated to this sector. The
remainder of the money is being used in a variety of other
projects, including establishment of a national SIS and
enhanced electronic surveillance.
5. Estonia is in the process of renewing or establishing
new bilateral agreements with Latvia and Finland, in order
to ensure smooth implementation of Schengen. According to
Piret Lillevali, an Advisor to the Ministry of Internal
Affairs, while there are various bilateral agreements that
relate to Schengen implementation the most numerous concern
cross-border police cooperation. In August 2006, Estonian
Minister of Interior Kalle Laanet, and his Latvian
counterpart Dzintars Jaundzeikars met in Valk, Latvia to
sign an agreement on cross-border police cooperation.
Estonia and Finland are currently negotiating a similar
New Schengen Implementation Date for Estonia
6. Estonia originally planned to implement Schengen by the
fall of 2007. However, now it appears this will not happen
until late 2008 or early 2009 due to a delay in the EU's
introduction of SIS II. A key aspect of Schengen
implementation is full integration into the SIS, which
provides personal identity and other data throughout the
Schengen area. SIS was created to allow police forces and
consular agents from Schengen countries to access data on
specific individuals (e.g. criminals and missing persons)
and on goods which have been lost or stolen. The European
Commission is currently revising technological aspects of
the SIS, (to become SIS II) in order to integrate new
member states and to allow the database to be accessible to
a larger number of institutions and legal authorities
within Schengen countries.
7. On September 7, 2006 an EU Council working group
discussed a new timetable for the completion of the SIS II.
According to this timetable, SIS II will not be ready to
integrate the information systems of new member states
until June 2008. According to officials from both the MFA
and the MOI, this could delay Estonia's implementation of
Schengen to at least October 2008 or even more likely early
2009. Once Estonia has completed the steps necessary to
integrate its systems with SIS II, the EU will still have
to assess Estonian compliance with Schengen standards.
Anticipated Effects of Schengen on Estonia
8. As yet, GOE officials do not appear concerned that
adoption of Schengen will result in serious asylum or
illegal migration problems in Estonia. According to Ele
Russak, an Adviser in the Citizenship and Migration Policy
Department of the Interior Ministry, Estonia receives very
few asylum applications and the number has not increased
since Estonia's accession to the EU in 2004. (Note:
Estonia received 15 asylum applications in 2004, 11 in 2005
and 3 to date in 2006. End note.) Russak told us that she
does not foresee Schengen per se increasing the numbers,
but noted that the GOE is still in the process of reviewing
the potential impact of Schengen on asylum applications.
9. The Estonian Citizenship and Migration Board (CMB) is
working on a system to shorten the average time it takes to
process asylum applications and to prevent and reduce the
misuse of the asylum system. In 2004 Estonia began
exchanging information with the EURODAC Register - the EU's
digital system for comparison of fingerprints of asylum
seekers and illegal immigrants. The register allows
participating countries to ascertain if an alien has
already applied for asylum in another EU member state.
According to MFA's Jaanus Kirikmae, in cases where asylum
seekers have already requested asylum elsewhere within the
EU, those asylum seekers would be sent back to where the
original application was filed. In 2000, the GOE opened a
new Estonian Asylum Seekers Reception Center in Ida-Virumaa
Country, in the northeast corner of Estonia. The Center
has rooms for receiving and interviewing applicants as well
as temporary accommodations.
10. To address issues related to illegal migration, the CMB
established migration bureaus at four regional points in
Tallinn, Johvi, Parnu and Tartu in 2004 and set up a
database of illegal aliens in Estonia in 2005. The CMB
supports voluntary departure of aliens; it only expels them
to their country of origin if they fail to leave
voluntarily. Those awaiting expulsion are detained at the
Repatriation Center. Since the Center's establishment in
2003, it has accommodated only 53 people, the majority
coming from Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine.
11. GOE officials have only begun to consider the impact of
Schengen on economic migration. The MOI's Russak told us
that the Ministry of Economy recently established a working
group to analyze labor migration, with the aim of "possibly
simplifying work permits." She noted that preference will
be given to EU nationals. Russak also acknowledged that
Estonia is facing a growing labor shortage which will also
need to be considered during discussions on labor
Estonian Criticism of Delay
12. Estonia's preparations for Schengen implementation
appear to be progressing well. However given the magnitude
of the airport terminal construction initiative and the
EU's delay in implementing the SIS II, it is very possible
that full implementation of the treaty could slip further.
In a meeting September 29 in the Estonian island of
Saaremaa, the chairpersons of the European Affairs
committees of 8 EU member state national parliaments
(Baltics, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Finland and Denmark)
expressed support for an Estonian-initiated draft
resolution criticizing the European Commission for the
delay in the lauch of SIS II. The draft resolution will be
discussed further at a conference in Helsinki this
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