EU interior ministers on Friday agreed on an airline passenger data exchange system that should help in the fight against terrorism.

"Agreement has finally been reached and I believe it will be adopted by the European Parliament very soon. Croatia, regardless of the fact that it is a tourist country, supports such activities that can be a bonus in the fight against terrorism," Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said.

The fact that Croatia is a tourist country with a lot of intra-European flights will require a lot of work and may create problems to air carriers, which will have to gather information and submit it to the competent authorities. "Spain and Portugal, as tourist countries with a lot of flights, have also expressed scepticism. It's a practical problem," Ostojic said.

"The compromise agreed today will enable the EU to set up an effective PNR (passenger name record) system which fully respects fundamental rights and freedoms," said Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Internal Security and President of the Justice and Home Affairs Council.

Under the draft directive approved by the Council today, air carriers will be obliged to provide member states' authorities with the PNR data for flights entering or departing from the EU. It will also allow, but not oblige, member states to collect PNR data concerning selected intra-EU flights.  Each member state will be required to set up a so-called Passenger Information Unit, which will receive the PNR data from the air carriers. Data will be stored for six months, after which they will be masked out and stored for four and a half years, with a strict procedure to access the full data.

The agreement on the directive was welcomed by Timothy Kirkhope, the European Parliament's lead negotiator on this issue. "I am very pleased that the Council has accepted the proposal I put forward earlier this week. We cannot wait any longer to put this system in place. This is a good agreement that will deliver an effective tool for fighting terrorism and serious crime," he said.

PNR data is useful not just for tracking down terrorists and foreign fighters, but also those involved in organised crime. Many countries have their own national PNR systems, but the problem is that there has been no such system on the EU level and coordination between member states has been poor. 

"The choice is not between an EU PNR system and no EU PNR system; it is between an EU PNR system and 28 national PNR systems that will have vastly differing, or absent, standards for protecting passenger data," Kirkhope said.

The agreement on the directive was speeded up after terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13. The absence of an EU-wide PNR system within the Schengen passport-free zone makes it possible for potential terrorists to travel unnoticed.

The European Parliament has long opposed this system fearing data abuse.

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