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'Smart borders' proposal

28 February 2013
by eub2 -- last modified 28 February 2013

The European Commission has proposed a 'smart border package' with the aim of speeding up, facilitating and reinforcing border check procedures for foreigners travelling to the EU. The package - which would move the EU towards "a more modern and efficient border management" by using state-of-the-art technology - consists of a Registered Traveller Programme (RTP) and an Entry/Exit System (EES) that will simplify life for frequent third country travellers at the Schengen external borders and enhance EU border security.


Why do we need 'smart borders'?

Travel flows at the external borders of the EU are increasing and are expected to increase even more in the future. Border crossings at the air borders alone could increase by 80%, from 400 million in 2009 to 720 million in 2030. This will result in longer delays and queues for travellers if border checking procedures are not modernised in time. Member States cannot address this only by hiring additional border guards and expanding border crossing points. The 'Smart Borders' package leads 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) will speed up border check procedures for third country nationals entering the EU while at the same time enhancing security.

Meeting these two objectives of facilitating access and enhancing security would make sure that the EU remains open to the world and attractive as a destination for non EU-travellers.

What are the current rules?

Under the current rules, the Schengen Borders Code requires a thorough check at entry of all travellers crossing the external border; 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 stayed in the Schengen area is calculated based solely on the stamps affixed in the travel document. There is no European data base in which such travellers are recorded. As a result there is no effective way for the 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.

Registered Traveller Programme

How will an EU Registered Traveller Programme be working?

The Registered Traveller Programme will facilitate border crossings for frequent, pre-vetted and pre-screened third country travellers at the Schengen external borders.

The Commission is proposing to make use of new technologies such as Automated Border Control systems, thus giving Member States tools to manage their passenger flows more efficiently and releasing human resources needed at the external border for checking higher risk travellers or serve other travellers. Third country nationals having access to the RTP would be able to use Automated Border Control facilities whenever available at the Schengen border crossing point.

In practice the RTP would work at the border the following way: A Registered Traveller would be issued a token in the form of a machine-readable card containing only a unique identifier (i.e. application number), which is swiped on arrival and departure at the border using an automated gate. The gate would read the token and the travel document (and visa sticker number, if applicable) and the fingerprints of the travellers, which would be compared to the ones stored in the Central Repository and other databases, including the Visa Information system (VIS) for visa holders. If all checks are successful, the traveller is able to pass through the automated gate. In case of any issue, the traveller would be assisted by a border guard. All in all, passing the external border will be a matter of seconds.

Who could become a Registered Traveller?

While citizens from some non-EU countries are required to hold a visa when travelling to the Schengen area, others are not (1) (see also DG Home infographics).

Visa holders and non-visa holders from all third-countries would be eligible to apply for access to the RTP and after successful vetting and pre-screening process would be able to benefit from this type of travel facilitation arrangement at any external border crossing point of the Schengen area.

Third-country nationals of at least 12 years of age should be able to lodge an application for the RTP at the consulate of any Member State or at any external border crossing point. Examination of applications would be aligned with the criteria for issuing multiple-entry visa.

A maximum €20 application fee covering the administrative cost of handling RTP applications by the Member States could be asked to applicants. Initial access to the Registered Traveller Programme should be granted for one year.

Entry-Exit System

How has the Entry/Exit System been designed?

The Entry/Exit System will permit the accurate and reliable calculation of authorised stays as well as identification and verification of travellers. It will do so by replacing the current system of calculation based on the stamps in the passports by the electronic registry of the dates and place of entry and exit of third-country nationals admitted for short stays. The Commission proposal for an EES Regulation foresees to start with the registration of alphanumeric data (e.g. names, type and number of travel document(s), date and time of entry/exit, etc.) and after three years of operation also biometrics (fingerprints). The data retention is foreseen for a period of 6 months in 'ordinary cases' and for 5 years in cases of 'overstay'. Access to the database will be granted 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.

How will travellers' personal data be protected?

The RTP and EES will comply with the relevant legislation on the protection of personal data. Furthermore, privacy by design will be promoted by the system - i.e. the system will be designed in a way that limits its data protection impacts.

Data would be collected and handled only by the designated competent authorities (RTP: visa and border authorities; EES: visa, border and immigration authorities) as far as is necessary for the performance of their tasks. Access to the data is strictly defined and limited in both regulations.

Measures for redress will be put in place so that travellers can rectify any data contained in their Registered Traveller application and/or their Entry/Exit record.

Measures are taken to ensure that the data is stored securely and is not subject to misuse. Data processing will 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.

What is the cost of such systems?

The maximum estimated costs for the development and operation of the two systems between 2015-2020 (€ 513 million for the EES and € 587 million for the RTP) has been earmarked by the Commission (under the Internal Security Fund 2014-2020) (2) to cover: - one-time development costs at central level and in all Member States; - costs for four years of business-critical maintenance of both central and national components.

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 start making considerable cost savings as of their second year of operations.

Furthermore, the RTP applicant will have to pay a fee of 20 EUR for administrative costs of examining applications. The fee could be reduced to 10 EUR if a multiple-entry visa application and an RTP application are examined at the same time based on the same supporting documents.

Why do we need specific systems at EU level?

The establishment of a European EES will record the entries and exits of all third country nationals admitted for short stays within the Schengen area, including those not subject to the visa requirement. Therefore, it will provide accurate data on travel flows and movements of third-country nationals across all external border crossing points of the Schengen area. Moreover, the system will 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 will allow for accurate and reliable identification and verification of non-visa holders both at the external border and within the territory.

Thirteen Member States (3) 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 entry and exit records cannot therefore be matched when persons leave the Schengen area through another Member State than the one from which they entered and in which their entry was recorded.

The EES will not only bring benefits by allowing more evidence-based policy-making, 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.

An EU Registered Traveller Programme (RTP) will allow for a faster and simpler border check process for frequent, pre-screened and pre-vetted third country travellers at every external border crossing point. Some Member States are successfully speeding up border checks for EU/EEA/CH citizens by implementing automated border checks based on the e-passports (4) or based on the pre-registration (5). But these systems cannot be used for third country nationals and membership of a national RTP in one Member State does not automatically allow the traveller to benefit from facilitated border crossing in another Member State.

Would an Entry-Exit System be duplicating other tools?

No. There are already measures and tools available at EU border crossing points, such as the Schengen Information System (SIS) and Visa Information System (VIS). However, none is intended for the purpose of recording border crossings and keeping track of the time people stay within the EU territory.

The SIS is used by border guards as well as by police, customs, visa and judicial authorities throughout the Schengen Area, in particular to carry out checks on persons who may have been involved in a serious crime or may not have the right to enter or stay in the EU.

The main purpose of the VIS is to allow 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. It has not been designed to keep track of the entries and exits of third country nationals nor is it meant to allow checking whether a person, after entering the EU legally, does or does not stay longer than permitted. In addition, of course, the VIS concerns only countries whose nationals need a visa to enter the Schengen area.

Would the Entry-Exit System be a kind of EU ESTA?

No. The EES will mainly contribute to border management and whereas an EU Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) would entail a pre-travel screening system of all non EU citizens not requiring a visa travelling to the Schengen area, which has no direct relation with the functioning of the EES or the RTP. The Commission has decided to not proceed with proposing an EU ESTA at this stage, but will further analyse this issue in 2014 in relation to the future of visa policy.


1 : There are currently 42 countries and entities whose citizens do not need a visa. Further to a recent omission proposal this list could soon include an additional 16 Caribbean and Pacific Island Nations

2 : COM (2011) 750.

3 : Finland, Estonia, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Portugal, Malta.

4 : For example, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, ortugal, Spain and the United Kingdom have already implemented ABC for EU/EEA/CH citizens or will soon implement it.

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

Source: European Commission

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