The island’s Justice Minister Stefi Drakou on Friday stressed the importance of granting Cyprus access to the Schengen Information Exchange System in 2023, in a bid to strengthen public security, more effective border controls, police cooperation and return procedures.

Drakou was in Brussels where she participated in the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union, which took place on December 8 and 9, according to a statement.

The 27 ministers were briefed on the situation in the Schengen area and the security issues arising as a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They were also briefed on the upgrading process of the electronic systems used for controls at the external borders of the European Union.

The Commission presented the Eurobarometer for 2022, which showed a 74% increase compared to last year in irregular entries across Europe. In this context, Drakou underlined the significant problem Cyprus faces as a result of the instrumentalisation of migration by Turkey.

The accession of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to the Schengen area was also discussed extensively during the Council. Despite strong support from 25 countries including Cyprus, the necessary unanimity was not achieved for Bulgaria and Romania, with two countries voting against. Croatia’s accession was unanimously approved by the Council.

During a working lunch, the ministers discussed the increase of anti-Semitic phenomena in Europe and ways to tackle the issue. In her intervention, Drakou referred to the measures taken by Cyprus, noting that there is no surge of the phenomenon in the country.

The ministers also discussed the need to protect freedom of expression and individuals who express critical opinions on issues of public interest, such as journalists and human rights defenders, from abusive legal proceedings aimed at silencing. All states supported the purpose of the proposed directive while stressing the need for balanced rules so as not to affect the right of access to justice.

Drakou returns to Cyprus on Saturday.