Next steps in border management in the EU
In the framework of the European strategy for integrated border management, the Commission floats the idea of new tools: measures benefiting bona fide travellers from Non-EU Member Countries, EU entry/exit registration system, automated gates for checking travellers based on biometric identifiers, and an electronic system of travel authorisation for Non-EU Member Country nationals not requiring visas before travelling to a Member State.
Communication of 13 February 2008 from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Preparing the next steps in border management in the European Union [COM(2008) 69 final - Not yet published in the Official Journal].
The Commission envisages a new generation of border management tools for use by Member States taking part in the Schengen cooperation and Non-EU Member Countries associated to it.
Difficulties in the current context of integrated border management *
The Commission notes a series of problems:
- the data contained in travel documents are transmitted as required by a Directive of 29 April 2004 on the obligation of carriers to transmit passenger data, at the request of the Member State of destination, but cannot be used to prevent a person from arriving at the border crossing point of that State;
- the European Union's all-or-nothing consular approach to visas means that either all nationals of a Non-EU Member Country are subject to the visa requirement or they are not. Those who are not are not subject to any checks before they arrive at the destination Member State;
- with the exception of Non-EU Member Country nationals covered by the Local Border Traffic Regulation, Community law does not allow for simplifying checks for frequent travellers to the Schengen area, notably those holding multiple-entry visas;
- since the dates of movement of Non-EU Member Country nationals across the external borders are not recorded, there is no way of systematically detecting overstayers;
- nor, given practical difficulties such as illegible stamps on travel documents, can border guards always determine an individual's length of stay. Moreover, there are no means for Member States to share any data that may be collected.
In the context of the development of a new integrated border management strategy, the Commission suggests engaging in a reflection along four lines.
A specific regime for bona fide travellers
Low-risk travellers from Non-EU Member Countries ("bona fide travellers") could be granted "Registered Traveller" status. This status, which would allow them to benefit from a simple and automated border check upon arrival in the Member State of destination, would be obtained on a voluntary basis through pre-screening procedures at a consulate or future common visa application centre. It would be awarded on the basis of common vetting criteria (notably not having exceeded an authorised duration of stay, proof of means of subsistence, holder of a biometric passport).
Bona fide travellers and EU nationals with e-passports could benefit from an automated verification of identity at the border via automated gates that would read the biometric data contained in the travel documents or stored in a database and compare them against the biometrics of the traveller.
The biometric identifiers used for Non-EU Member Country nationals would be the same as for visa holders (facial image and fingerprints).
To benefit from minimum border checks, EU citizens could, in the run-up to the full introduction of biometric passports, benefit from interim schemes deployed voluntarily by the individual Member States. To make these interoperable, they could be eligible for financial support from the External Borders Fund.
Entry/exit registration system
An automatic system registering the time and place of entry and exit of Non-EU Member Country nationals admitted for short stays, both those who require a visa and those who do not, could be introduced at the borders. This system could use the same technical platform as the Schengen Information System (SIS II) and the Visa Information System (VIS). It would not only identify "overstayers" but would also provide information and data on migration flows. It could be set up at the same time as the VIS in order to use the data collected by that system. Third-party nationals not requiring visas would register their biometric data at the first entry into a Member State.
Electronic System of Travel Authorisation (ESTA)
This system would make it possible to verify that a Non-EU Member Country national not requiring a visa meets entry conditions before travelling to the EU. It would use data supplied in an electronic application, identifying the traveller and specifying travel and passport details. The Commission intends to launch a study in 2008 to analyse the feasibility of such a system and will report back to the European Parliament and the Council in 2009.
This Communication follows in the wake of the EU external border management plan approved by the Council on 13 June 2002, itself based on a Communication from the Commission (7 May 2002). It aims at the introduction of new tools to develop an integrated border management strategy.