Frequently Asked Questions: ‚Smart Borders‘

Why do we need ’smart borders‘?

Travel flows at the external borders of the EU are increasing and are expected to increase substantially in the years ahead. Border crossings at the air borders alone are expected to increase from 400 million in 2009 to 720 million in 2030. Member States cannot address this only by hiring additional border guards. The ‚Smart Borders‘ package would lead the way towards a next generation of border checks relying on new, much more effective technologies.

The Entry/Exit System (EES) and the Registered Travellers Programme (RTP) would speed up border check procedures for third country nationals entering the EU and enhance security.

Meeting these two objectives of security and facilitation is important, not least in the context of the recent initiatives to strengthen Schengen area governance (IP/11/1036, MEMO/11/606 and MEMO/11/608). This would make sure that the EU remains open to the world and attractive as a destination for non EU-travellers.

What does the Commission propose?

The Entry/Exit System and the Registered Travellers Programme are ambitious initiatives. Before presenting any legislative proposals, the Commission wants to make sure that there is a common understanding and a common commitment between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council on the main issues at stake.

Today’s communication on ‚Smart Borders‘ will enable all actors to reflect on the options available.

The future proposals on an Entry/Exit System and a Registered Travellers Programme will be based on an impact assessment study. The proposed systems will have to bring unquestionable added value for the border management and internal security of the EU, taking into account the substantial costs and data protection aspects.

What are the current rules?

The Schengen Borders Code requires a thorough check at entry on all travellers crossing the external border, except for EU citizens and their family members. Under current rules, there is no flexibility in the system. The same checks are applied to all third country nationals, regardless of the level of risk associated with them or their frequency of travel.

Moreover, there are currently no means to record a traveller’s cross-border movements. The period of time a traveller has been authorised to stay in the Schengen area is calculated based solely on the stamps affixed in the travel document. As a result there is no means for relevant authorities to address the issue of ‚overstayers‘ (i.e. travellers who stay beyond the authorised period of time). This lack of information affects the capacity of Member States to carry out returns and reduces the extent to which EU border and visa policy is based on evidence.

The ‚Smart Borders‘ initiative would therefore focus on the two systems already mentioned: – one to simplify border crossing for regular travellers (the RTP) and – one to maintain information on the entry and exit of third country nationals admitted for a short stay, including automatic calculation of stays (the EES).

How would the system work in practice?

This will depend on the decision made on the options put forward in today’s Communication.

In any case, developing and operating such specific systems could best be achieved through a dedicated structure, such as the new IT Agency.

How will travellers‘ personal data be protected?

Future proposals on RTP and EES will comply with the relevant legislation on the protection of personal data, in particular with data protection principles and the requirement for there to be necessity, proportionality, purpose limitation and quality of data.

Data would be collected and handled only by the designated competent visa and border authorities at consular posts and at border crossing points as far as is necessary for the performance of their tasks. Access to the data would be strictly defined and limited in accordance with EU and national privacy and data protection legislation. Measures for redress would be put in place so that travellers can rectify any data contained in their Registered Traveller application and/or their entry/exit record.

Measures would be taken to ensure that the data is stored securely and is not subject to misuse. Data processing would be supervised by the European Data Protection Supervisor as far as EU institutions and bodies are involved, and by national data protection authorities, as far as Member States‘ authorities are involved.

How much will it cost?

Costs for developing the systems will be influenced by which implementation options are chosen and, especially, depending on whether the two systems (EES and RTP) are developed together or separately. Therefore, more detailed cost estimates will be part of the impact assessment that will accompany the legislative proposals.

At this stage, for the EES, development costs in total (three years) would be in the order of €200 million. Over 75% of these costs relate to the development and setting up of the necessary infrastructure in each Member State. Yearly operating costs would be in the order of up to €100 million, with a similar share of costs incurred at national level.

For the RTP, calculations are similar, but do not include costs for examining applications for RT status (an application fee, which would cover the administrative cost of handling RTP applications by the Member States, could be foreseen). Implementing the RTP in practice will also mean that Member States would increase their investments in automated gates at the border.

The substantial costs need of course to be considered alongside the benefits: for example, as well as automating a substantial share of all border crossings, the RTP could reduce border control resources needed by around 40% (estimated to be around €500 million/year). This would enable Member States to make more effective use of their border guards. Even if we assume that savings would be more modest (i.e. €250 million/year), Member States would still have net cost savings as of their second year of operations.

Why do we need specific systems at EU level?

The establishment of a European Entry-Exit System (EES) would provide accurate data on travel flows and movements of third-country nationals across all external border crossing points of the Schengen area. Thus for the first time it would be possible to have a real time picture of which third country nationals are present in the Schengen area. Eleven Member States1 are currently implementing national entry/exit systems, which systematically collect all entry and exit records of third-country nationals crossing their respective external borders. However these national systems are not linked to similar systems in other Member States.

The EES will not only bring benefits by allowing more evidence-based policymaking, for example, in the domain of visa policy and visa facilitation, but also in the framework of the Partnership for Migration, Mobility and Security with certain neighbouring countries.

A Registered Traveller Programme (RTP) would allow for a faster and simpler border check process for pre-vetted third country national frequent travellers.

Some Member States are successfully speeding up border checks for EU citizens by implementing automated border checks (e.g. on the basis of e-passports) or establishing other systems for pre-registered travellers2. Seven Member States have implemented a form of a national RTP for EU citizens3. But these systems cannot be used for third-country nationals and membership of a national RTP in one Member State will not automatically allow the traveller to benefit from facilitated border crossing in another Member State.

Would an Entry-Exit System be duplicating the existing Visa Information System?

The main purpose of the VIS is to permit the verification of a traveller’s visa application history and, at entry level, verify whether the person presenting the visa at the border is the same person to whom the visa has been issued (see IP/11/1169 and MEMO/11/682). However, the VIS has not been designed to keep track of the entries and exits of third-country nationals nor is it meant to allow checks on whether a person, after entering the EU legally, does or does not overstay his/her visa. In addition, of course, the VIS concerns only countries whose nationals need a visa to enter the Schengen area.

The establishment of an EES would record the entries and exits of all third-country nationals crossing the borders, including those not subject to the visa requirement. Moreover, the system would automatically calculate the authorised stay and issue an alert to the competent national authorities when there is no exit record on the expiry of the authorised stay. Finally, the EES could allow for accurate and reliable identification and verification of undocumented third-country nationals.

Notwithstanding the added value of the EES, it is important to note that a well-functioning and fully rolled-out VIS should be seen as a prerequisite for the cost-efficient implementation of the EES as the same technical infrastructure should be used by both systems.

1 : Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Portugal

2 : United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany and Finland

3 : For example, the Netherlands (Privium), France (PARAFES), the United Kingdom (Iris) and Germany (ABG) have this kind of programme