On 6th April 2016, the European Commission presented its revised proposal for the establishment of an Entry-Exit System (EES) as part of the broader Smart Borders Package, which concerns the role of information systems in enhancing external border management, internal security and the fight against terrorism and organised crime. The Commission believes that the system will ensure that authorised short-stays for third country nationals are managed efficiently while increasing automation at border-controls and improving the detection of document and identity fraud.
The system will apply to all non- EU citizens who are admitted for a short stay in the Schengen area (maximum 90 days in any 180-day period) and will register names, types of travel document, biometrics and the date and place of entry and exit. The aim is to facilitate the border crossing of bona fide travellers, detect overstayers and identify undocumented persons in the Schengen area. Refusals of entry will also be recorded.
According to the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos: “The use of new technologies can help manage the flow of travellers arriving at our external borders, while at the same time tackling irregular migration and enhancing our internal security. Today, we address an important gap in our information systems and take concrete action to make our borders stronger, smarter and more efficient for the ever-increasing numbers of travellers coming to the EU.”
Several differences stand out from the original 2013 proposals, which had been withdrawn in December 2014 to allow the Commission to address concerns expressed by the European Parliament and the Council and to maximise the effectiveness of the package by improving, among others, the costbenefit ratio. The most immediate change is of course the cost of the system, which has been reduced from €1.1 billion to only €480 million. This significant change can be attributed to the apparent down-sizing of the Commission’s ambitions in certain areas of the proposal. This general down-sizing appears to be designed in the hopes of producing a more streamlined and efficient system.
The Registered Travellers Programme, foreseen in the Smart Borders Package in the 2013 proposal, has been dropped, although Member States will still be able to adopt it individually. In theory, the use of a single system should provide for increased efficiency and less confusion as well as a reduction in costs. Member States’ law enforcement authorities and Europol will have access to the EES from the start of operations, enabling them to provide a record of the travel history of third country nationals admitted or refused entry to the Schengen area for a short stay and support the identification of those involved in criminal and terrorist activities. Moreover, a connection will be established between the central systems of the EES and the Visa Information System with direct access between them defined for specific purposes. This interconnection should allow for more efficient and rapid checks and enable users to avoid the unnecessary duplication of data.
The use of biometric identifiers has also been revised, with the Commission now proposing a combination of four fingerprints and facial images (as opposed to 10 fingerprints in the initial proposal), while there has also been a significant reduction in the volume of personal data to be examined. A total period of five years has been proposed for data retention, which the Commission believes will reduce the frequency of re-enrolment while at the same time allowing border guards to perform risk analysis on the basis of a sufficient retention period. Finally, self-service systems and e-gates will be put in place to facilitate border crossings.
The legislative proposals will now be transmitted to the European Parliament and Council for adoption. The Commission has said it would like to see a rapid adoption of its proposal by the end of 2016 and has invited Member States to start taking the necessary steps for the system to come into effect by 2020. On the Parliament’s side, Agustín Díaz De Mera García Consuegra (EPP, Spain) has already been appointed Rapporteur for the dossier. Looking ahead, he has stated that he is optimistic about the possibility of quickly achieving an agreement within the Parliament, however, he does not believe that this could be finalised before September 2016, due to the size and complexity of the dossier.