TALLINN - The European Union's Schengen evaluation commission has announced that, on the whole, Estonia is prepared to join the common security and justice area, despite a small number of needed improvements.
On Oct. 30, the working group passed evaluation reports of Estonia's maritime and land border, as well as data protection and visa-related work of the Estonian Embassy in Kiev. The commission also approved a report on the consulate general in St. Petersburg, the Interior Ministry reports.
"The border service has earned a positive evaluation on the whole. Border check procedures are in conformity with the requirements set down in normative documents of the Schengen area, and border guards are well trained. In the evaluators' words, the organization is well structured," said Piret Lillevali, the Interior Ministry's Schengen coordinator.
The reports single out the investigation and risk analysis system of the border service, as well as its application. The commission found cooperation between domestic agencies to be "efficient" and descrived cooperation with neighboring countries' border services, on both the local and central plane, as "good."
The reports make positive mention of several things, including the integrated maritime surveillance system launched this year.
"The evaluators had serious reservations about the infrastructure of the pedestrian and railway crossings in Narva. Remarks were also made about the antiquated ships of the border guard," Lillevali added.
In her words, renovation was needed at the Tallinn Airport to provide separate entry and exit gates for Schengen and non-Schengen passengers. Yet Estonia is two steps ahead, as airport construction has already begun.
Border evaluation reports recommend that Estonian officials thoroughly "analyze the actual need" for personnel, and hire employees accordingly.
Those who evaluated Estonia's consular service highlighted the country's professional staff training and domestic cooperation over visa issues. They advised state officials to pay more attention to security at consular offices. Estonia should also be more attentive to the growing risk of immigration after joining the Schengen area, the commission added.
"The evaluation group found the Data Protection Inspectorate to be competent, but drew attention to several circumstances that did not fully meet the Schengen requirements. Legislation definitely has to be amended to give the Data Protection Inspectorate powers of supervision regarding the use of the Schengen information system," Lillevali noted.
The report on police cooperation gave Estonia high marks for its collaboration with Finnish colleagues in solving crimes and working with police information systems and technical equipment.
"There is room for improvement in cooperation with the Latvian police, which will be especially important after the elimination of checks on the Estonian-Latvian border," Lillevali said.
The EU council's Schengen evaluation group also agreed that some minor editorial changes were necessary in their reports on police and border cooperation, therefore the official drafts will be submitted for confirmation on Nov. 16-17.
On the basis of the evaluation reports, an interim summary will be drawn up for the Justice and Home Affairs Council by December. All new member states have until February 2007 to file the Schengen recommendation reports.