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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
'Smart Borders': for an open and secure Europe
Press conference – Smart Borders package/Brussels
28 February 2013
In June 2011 the EU Heads of State and Government asked the European Commission to reinforce the management of external borders and guarantee the free movement of persons.
Answering their request I am presenting today a 'Smart Borders' package that will help facilitate a more open and secure Europe, relying on state-of-the-art technologies.
The EU has extensive borders with around 1.800 external border crossing points; the number of persons crossing those borders is substantial and is expected to increase even more in the future. In fact the number of arrivals by air alone is estimated to almost double by 2030 increasing from 400 to over 720 million.
Our proposals consist of a Registered Traveller Program (RTP) and an Entry/Exit System (EES) that will facilitate, speed-up and reinforce the border check procedures at EU's external borders for third country nationals.
Let me start by illustrating the Registered Traveller Program: Openness is the key word to make sure the EU remains an attractive destination. This is crucial if we want to reap the benefits travellers bring to our economy.
According to Eurostat, non-EU residents contributed €271 billion to the economy when travelling to the EU in 2011. So we have to make it as easy as possible for tourists, business travellers, researchers and students to come to the EU.
The new EU Registered Traveller Programme will facilitate border crossings, introducing a faster and simpler border check process thanks to automated border gates and a simplified border check for pre-screened frequent third country travellers.
Participation in the Programme will be entirely on a voluntary basis and both visa holders and non-visa holders from all third-countries are able to apply for it.
Upon their request, they will be vetted and pre-screened and if approved they will be given a token, probably in the form of a machine-readable card.
Successfully registered travellers would be able to use an automated gate whenever available at the Schengen external border. The gate would read the token, the travel document and their biometric data. If all checks are successful, the traveller is able to pass through the automated gate, and thus enter the Schengen area in a matter of seconds.
We all see the common interest that our border check procedures allow for quick processing and that we avoid long queues for the vast majority of travellers who are legitimate to enter and pose no threat to security.
But at the same time we also expect our border guards to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the Schengen area.
Although a very small percentage of total travellers, there are people who are not entitled to enter or who remain in the EU beyond their permitted stay.
This is why we are also presenting an Entry-Exit System that will help to ensure a sufficient level of security.
The current border control system needs to be updated to face the challenges arising from increasing number of people travelling to the EU.
The Schengen area has almost 42.000 km of maritime borders, more than 7700 km of land borders and 644 air border crossing points. Every year 200 million third country nationals cross these borders.
But in this ''digital era'' made of tablets, smartphones and high-tech devices, our border guards still use a manual system based essentially on stamps in the passports.
As a consequence, we don't have accurate data on travellers' identity, on travel flows and on the movement of third-country nationals within the Schengen area.
We don't have an overview of people entering the EU and it is difficult to detect those who abuse the system by staying beyond their visa expiry date.
With the Entry/Exit System we will introduce new technologies, allowing for an accurate and reliable calculation of the authorised period of stay, as well as the verification of the individual travel history for both visa holders and visa exempted travellers.
For the first time, it will be possible to have a real time picture of which third country nationals are present in the Schengen area, and verify their identity.
The system will automatically calculate the authorised stay and issue an alert to the competent national authorities when there is no exit record in due time.
The verification of identity could even be done if people were to travel without valid documents. It can happen that third country nationals lose their travel documents either accidentally or purposefully and it is very difficult and costly to identify them if they are not cooperative.
The EES has been designed in a way that limits its data protection impacts. For those who respect the rules, which are the vast majority, data will be erased after just six months.
For those who abuse the system and stay behind the expiry of their visa validity, we propose a longer data retention period (5 years).
Access will be granted only to authorities responsible for border control, issuing visas and authorities competent for verifying the identity of third country nationals within the territory of a Member State.
Developing the two systems will require substantial financial investments, and support by the EU budget will be needed. For the period between 2015 and 2020, the estimated costs for the development and operation are over € 500 million for the EES and almost € 600 million for the RTP. However using them together can reduce costs marginally.
But the costs must also be seen in conjunction with the savings that will follow more effective border checks. The new systems will boost the ability to handle growing number of travellers without having to increase the number of border guards.
The financial benefits of facilitating travel for tourists and business travellers coming to Europe also have to be taken into account.
I know that during periods of budgetary constraint, this represents an important financial effort but I truly believe that having a modern management of our external borders is worth the investment.
It will now be up to the Member States and the European Parliament to deal with our proposals.