After multiple delays, the European Union’s (EU’s) new automated border system now has a launch date set in 2024.
This is according to Eurotunnel, the operator of the railway shuttle service between Calais, in France, and Folkestone, in the United Kingdom (UK).
The European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice (eu-LISA) supervises the project.
First proposed in 2008, the EES implementation has been delayed multiple times. EU Member states had struggled to integrate the complex border system with a central database into their existing infrastructure.
Member states must confirm by August 2024 that they are ready for the launch of the EES.
Initially set in 2021, the eu-LISA delayed the EES rollout to May 2022 and then pushed it back again to September 2023.
In October 2023, the European Council’s Justice and Home Affairs Council confirmed a new EES timeline for the autumn of 2024.
The timing avoids possible delays when travelers attend the Olympic games in Paris, France, in July and August of 2024.
What is the Entry/Exit System?
The EES aims to increase border security for the EU’s Schengen zone. Within its borders, citizens of its member states are allowed relatively unrestricted travel.
The Schengen area comprises most of the 27 EU member states except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, and Romania. However, it includes Switzerland and the European Economic Area (EEA) countries Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.
Visa-exempt travelers and those requiring a short-stay visa to enter the Schengen zone must submit fingerprints and facial biometrics at the border.
This includes British citizens who are considered third-party nationals after the UK’s departure from the EU in 2020.
The EES, however, does not affect non-EU nationals with residency permits in member-state countries.
Instead of stamping passports upon arrival at the border, the EES will record entries and exits electronically.
It will register and store the person’s name, type of travel document, fingerprints and facial images, and the date and place of arrival and departure.
The EES will also record refusals of entry. It will make identifying those without permission to enter and who have overstayed in the Schengen area easier.
The new digital border system check will also detect individuals using fake identities and passports.
How the Entry/Exit System works
Once the EES is operational, third-country nationals must submit fingerprints and facial biometrics upon arrival at the EU border. A border officer will supervise this on the first visit.
On subsequent visits, travelers will need to use only one, either fingerprint or facial biometric, to confirm their permission.
A traveler’s data will remain valid in the EES system for three years.
Each time a traveler visits the Schengen zone, the system will reset and store the data for another three years or until the traveler’s passport expires.
Fingerprints of those who have short-stay visas will already be stored in the Visa Information System (VIS). They will not be kept again in the EES.
Border control issues with the EES
Despite the promise of faster border checks, the EES systems present several issues for operators. Many do not have space for fingerprint checks and facial biometric scans amidst the crowded crossings.
In November 2023, the UK European Scrutiny Committee started an investigation of the effects the EES may have on borders and port operations, particularly those implementing ‘juxtaposed’ controls.
These include, among others, the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone, both located in Kent, south of England. At these borders, checks are done both ways.
EU border controls are conducted on UK soil at these crossings. French officials also inspect documents before travelers board cross-Channel transports.
Under the EES, checks cannot be done as a group. Any vehicle carrying non-EU passengers must stop and let all the passengers alight to register for biometrics during live traffic.
This could cause significant delays and is “fundamentally unsafe,” said Tim Reardon, head of EU exit for the Port of Dover. He spoke at an oral evidence-gathering meeting with the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee.
Both Dover Port and Folkestone Terminal also have limited space for additional processing.
On the other hand, airlines must verify travelers’ eligibility at least 48 hours before departure.
Airlines must send verification queries to the EES system. It will then inform airlines whether a passenger is eligible to travel and be boarded.
Airlines will be held responsible for allowing non-eligible passengers to board their planes.
According to a document submitted by Ryanair’s parent company to the UK’s House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, the 48-hour deadline “is too long” and may thwart late ticket sales.
The EES, ETIAS, and UK ETA
After the EES rollout in October 2024, the EU’s new electronic travel permit system, the European Travel and Information and Authorization (ETIAS), will begin in mid-2025.
The ETIAS is similar to the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). All foreign nationals who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area must obtain an ETIAS. This includes UK citizens.
The UK European Scrutiny Committee will also examine the possible interoperability issues of the EES, ETIAS, and UK ETA systems and their impact on travelers and operators.