Forty-eighth Report of Session 2010-12 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

10 Smart borders



COM(11) 680

Commission Communication: Smart borders — options and the way ahead

Legal base
Document originated25 October 2011
Deposited in Parliament3 November 2011
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 17 November 2011
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionDo not clear; further information requested

The Commission Communication

10.1 The Communication sets out the Commission's ideas for developing a system of "smart" border controls which would seek to strengthen the management and control of travel flows at the EU's external borders while also speeding up border crossings for trusted frequent travellers. It responds to the request made by the European Council in June "to ensure that new technologies are harnessed to meet the challenges of border control" and to introduce an EU entry/exit system and a registered traveller programme.[62]

10.2 The Communication recognises that the introduction of technology-based smart borders will require long-term political commitment and significant investment. The Commission therefore sets out the objectives of an EU system of smart borders, the means for achieving them, the practical implications, and a crude estimate of costs. It says that, once the European Parliament and Council have decided how to proceed, it will produce a full impact assessment.

10.3 The Commission estimates that some 700 million border crossings are made each year at the EU's external land, sea and air borders, of which roughly a third involve third country (non-EU) nationals. It suggests that these flows, which are set to increase, present two challenges for Member States participating in the Schengen free movement area. The first concerns the efficient monitoring of travel flows into and out of the Schengen area, especially with a view to assessing the risk of abuse. The Commission notes that most illegal immigrants enter the EU lawfully but then "overstay" (exceed the period for which they are authorised to remain within the EU). The second challenge is to make border crossings faster and simpler for trusted regular travellers who meet all the entry criteria and present little risk of abuse.

10.4 To meet these challenges, the Commission advocates the introduction of an EU Entry/Exit System ("EES") and an EU Registered Travellers Programme ("RTP"). The first would replace the existing system of manual stamps at the point of entry and exit with "an electronic registry" showing when and where a third country national entered and left the Schengen free movement area. This would make it easier to calculate the period of authorised stay and to detect overstayers, while also providing valuable data for a broader assessment of the risks associated with particular categories of third country nationals, for example, those who require visas and those who are exempt. An EU system would ensure that entry and exit records could be matched where, for example, a third country national enters the Schengen area through one Member States and leaves it through another.

10.5 The RTP would enable "frequent, pre-vetted and pre-screened" third country nationals to cross the Schengen external border more quickly by making use, where possible, of new technologies such as Automated Border Control systems. Both systems, the Commission suggests, would help to enhance evidence-based policy making and provide a more accurate basis for risk assessment, particularly in connection with EU visa liberalisation measures or EU visa facilitation agreements with third countries.

10.6 The Commission notes that the EES and RTP would both be based on Article 77 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which provides for a common EU policy on visas and border controls, including "the efficient monitoring of the crossing of external borders", and would require changes to the Schengen Borders Code. The Commission says that the EES and RTP should be established simultaneously in order to minimise the overall development costs. It advocates the creation of a central database with national interfaces connecting to it and suggests that this could be combined with a token system for registered travellers. Each token issued to a registered traveller would contain a unique identifier which would provide access to centrally stored alphanumeric[63] and biometric data.

10.7 The Commission suggests that, during the first phase of development of smart borders, the central database would only record alphanumeric data, with biometric identifiers included later on, following an evaluation of the impact of the new systems on border management. The biometric identifiers would be the same as those used for existing or planned EU IT systems (Eurodac, VIS and SIS II) — in most cases fingerprints or, if not available, a digital facial image.

10.8 The Commission estimates initial development costs for the EES over a three year period as €200 million, of which 75% would relate to infrastructure costs in participating Member States. Yearly operating costs thereafter are likely to be in the region of €100 million, of which the bulk would be incurred at national level. It says that the costs would be similar for the RTP, but overall costs would be reduced by 30% if both systems were built on a common technical platform. Moreover, the administrative costs of handling RTP applications would be offset by payment of an application fee.

10.9 Implementation of the RTP would require participating Member States to invest in automated gates. Whilst the costs of automation are likely to be substantial, the Commission notes that Member States may be able to seek EU co-funding. It says that its proposals for the Multiannual Financial Framework from 2014-20 include provision, in the budget allocation for the proposed new EU Internal Security Fund, for the setting up, development and initial operation of the EES and RTP. The Commission also suggests that automation could generate significant longer term cost savings, potentially reducing by around 40% the human resources needed for border control.

10.10 The Commission emphasises the need for the development of the EES and RTP to adhere to the principles set out in its earlier Communication on information management in the area of freedom, security and justice.[64] These include, in particular, adequate safeguards for the protection of personal data. It says that the newly established IT Agency responsible for Eurodac, VIS and SIS II would also oversee the development and operation of the EES and RTP. The Commission expects to publish legislative proposals to establish an EES and RTP in the first half of 2012, following discussions with the European Parliament, Council and European Data Protection Supervisor.

The Government's view

10.11 The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green) notes that any legislative proposals to establish the EES and RTP will be based on Article 77 TFEU and build on the border control elements of the Schengen acquis. As the UK does not participate in these elements of the acquis, it will not take part in the adoption of the proposed EU measures and will not be bound by them.

10.12 The Minister says that the EES is "intended to generate reliable data on overstayers in particular, and travel flows in general." Although data generated by the EES would mainly be used by the Commission to evaluate visa liberalisation measures and EU visa facilitation agreements with third countries, he notes that "the system is also intended to 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."[65] "

10.13 The Minister observes that the proposed budget allocation for the EU's new Internal Security Fund in the Commission's Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-20 includes provision for start-up, development and initial operation costs, and adds:

"These funds relate to external borders initiatives from which the UK is excluded and to which we are not expected to contribute."[66]

10.14 The Minister highlights "shared principles" common to the systems proposed by the Commission and those currently in operation or planning within the UK. He continues:

"We support the use of technology to facilitate a quicker and more convenient way for legitimate travellers to pass through passport control. We also welcome proposals which are aimed at reducing illegal migration to the EU. There are some similarities with the UK's e-Borders project which enables detailed information about individual travellers to be electronically collected before, during and after passing through ports of entry/exit, and in an increased ability to identify overstayers and count migrants in and out. The Commission indicates that the EES will not use Advanced Passenger Information (API), as used the in UK and other API systems, as it does not meet the need of the EES to indicate that a person has crossed a border, may rely on inaccurate information and would be problematic to operate on the large numbers of Schengen external land borders."[67]

10.15 The Minister notes that the proposed RTP is similar in concept to the UK's Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS) where registered travellers are able to enter the UK more quickly through automated gates at certain airports. IRIS users are not, however, required to pay a fee.


10.16 The Commission's proposals for developing a system of "smart" border controls bear some similarity to the UK's e-Borders project. Whilst the UK will not participate in any new EU Entry-Exit System or Registered Traveller Programme, it is particularly well-placed to advise on the difficulties and delays which may be encountered when implementing new technology-based border control systems on such a broad scale. If new EU systems are to be introduced, we believe that it is in the UK's interests to engage actively with their development and efficient operation, not only, as the Minister indicates, because of their potential to reduce illegal immigration to the EU, but also because of their impact on UK citizens travelling to and from the Schengen free movement area.

10.17 In light of the substantial investment that will be required to implement the EU Entry-Exit System and Registered Traveller Programme, and the uncertainty as to the extent of any contribution from the EU budget, we ask the Minister to tell us whether he considers the budget allocation proposed by the Commission for the border control elements of the new Internal Security Fund for 2014-20 to be justified. Meanwhile, the Communication remains under scrutiny.

62   See European Council Conclusions 23/24 June 2011:  Back

63   Alphanumeric data might include name, nationality and passport number.  Back

64   See HC 428-ii (2010-11), chapter 12 (15 September 2010); HC 428-v (2010-11), chapter 7 (27 October 2010); and HC 428-xiv (2010-11), chapter 12 (26 January 2011). Back

65   See para 14 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

66   See para 18 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

67   See para 19 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 15 December 2011