November has seen decisive action being taken by the EU over internal and external border security; with the decision being taken to prolong internal border checks of 5 member states and also the introduction of a new European Travel Information and Authorisation System.
On 11 November 2016, the EU Council confirmed that it would continue extending internal border checks for three months in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden. All five are part of the Schengen border-free zone, which spans 26 countries throughout Europe.
The closed border along the Western Balkan route earlier this year, and a migrant swap deal with Turkey, was the consequence of the increasing migration crisis, which had caused “a serious threat to public policy and internal security.”
The internal checks have seen flows of immigrants into central Europe drop, and despite the Commission previously stating that all internal controls would be removed before the end of the year, to restore “a normally functioning Schengen”, fears still prevail and all five states sought to maintain the controls initially imposed in May.
News of the three month extension was followed by the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which was unveiled on 16 November 2016.
The ETIAS scheme to tighten European borders, which requires a 5 euro application fee, gathers information on all individuals travelling visa-free to the European Union, to allow monitoring of irregular migration and also to enhance security checks.
The ETIAS will automatically process each application received via a website (or a mobile application) against other EU information systems with authorisation being granted in a matter of minutes. The authorisation, will be valid for a period of five years and for multiple travels.
The scheme is set to be managed by the European Border and Coast Guard in close cooperation with the competent authorities of the Member States and Europol. The ETIAS will also facilitate the crossing of the external border by visa-exempt third country nationals. Travellers will have a reliable early indication of entry into the Schengen area which is aimed at reducing the number of refusals of entry.
Of the new system, Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President said, “ETIAS will close an information gap by cross-checking visa exempt applicants’ information against all our other systems. At the same time, the future ETIAS will be easy, quick, cheap and effective.”
Protecting the citizens of Europe and securing its borders are a main priority of the Commission this year, as set our by Jean-Claude Juncker in his State of Union Address, and in taking these decisive steps so quickly it appears the EU is doing everything in its power to ensure it fulfils its promise to the people of Europe.