The evolution of EU border security

EU external border management gets an upgrade with the Entry-Exit System. Here’s how the need for enhanced security measures evolved throughout the years and where it’s heading

Free movement

The Schengen Zone guarantees the free movement for more than 400 million EU citizens and non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU as tourists, students, or for business.

The free movement concept was born as an intergovernmental initiative, enabling Europeans to work freely and travel in any EU State; however, abolishing border controls within the Union proved challenging. With the signing of the Schengen Agreement, that all gradually changed. Today, the developments that the Agreement brought have been incorporated into the rules governing the EU.

Over the years, there have been several initiatives to reach the objective of open but well-controlled and secure external borders. One of those areas is regulating the movement of Third Country Nationals. The European Commission’s definition of integrated border management is the following:

“National and international coordination and cooperation among all relevant authorities and agencies involved in border security and trade facilitation to establish effective, efficient and coordinated border management at the external EU borders, to reach the objective of open, but well controlled and secure borders.”

June 14, 1985

Belgium, France, West Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands reduced internal border controls and started to allow free movement of people between the countries in the Schengen Area.

1990 Convention

The Convention on 19 June 1990 covered the procedures by issuing a uniform visa, operation of a single database for all members known as the Schengen Information System.

1995 implementation

The implementation of the Schengen Agreements started in 1995, initially involving seven EU countries.

Smart borders concept

After dissolving internal border controls, a challenge arose: how do we optimally protect EU citizens and visitors within the Schengen Zone? In 2013, the Smart Borders concept was proposed to the European Commission. After carefully examining the idea, a testing phase occurred at 18 air, sea, and land border crossing points, involving nearly 58 000 third-country national travellers and 350 border guards.

In 2016, the Commission adopted a revised legislative proposal detailing how the Entry-Exit System should be established. Now, the Entry-Exit System and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) focus on facilitating efficient travel to and from within the Schengen Zone while reducing the number of overstayers and enforcing the safety of the Union.

Irina Stoica, Vice President of Sales Europe at Laxton: “This and other pilots show that there is a change in requirements due to operation and implementation challenges.”

Shared data

To enhance security, data collection and processing interoperability will be standardised and monitored by Eu-LISA, the European agency of large-scale IT systems. The data includes:

  • Machine-readable data contained in the passport (name, passport and any visa number)
  • Information on border crossings and stay
  • Information on the border-crossing point
  • Biometrics: facial image and fingerprints

Europe will manage one of the largest biometric systems in the world by having shared data centres across all Schengen States. Eu-LISA, the European agency of large-scale IT systems, is responsible for developing the centralised database.

The database will serve the ‘privacy as a fundament’ principle. Travel information and biometric data will be highly secured and only accessible to border personnel, visa-granting authorities, and police.

Practical challenges

Border crossings are fast-paced, and the user experience must be exceptional. Member States might face practical challenges while implementing new technologies into their border security processes. There’s also a cultural aspect; a passenger-centric approach is essential to cut waiting times.

The solutions must be user-friendly to be used by various nationalities and people of multiple ages. The Schengen Member States must embrace technology and redefine procedures and workflows. Stoica: “Digital transformation is an ongoing process.

We have seen that the Covid-19 pandemic completely changed our lifestyle and accelerated digitalisation. Border security is not an exception. We focus on bringing trust and security and helping authorities adapt to the changes.”

A reliable solution

Potential migration waves across Europe could be a significant cornerstone for the upcoming EES project’s approach. Stoica: “The need for mobility becomes both inevitable and necessary for the expected performance. An expected increase in the number of travelers, plus the fight against crime calls for a reliable solution.

Together with our clients and partners, we are continuously improving our EES solutions as we want to ensure the best conditions for interoperability and project management. Achieving technical interoperability across geographical borders, processes and systems asks for standardisation.”

Stoica continues: “EES depends on identity. All the tools should be in place for a smooth transition. Biometrics are the proof of the continuous result of a reduction in errors and fraud through stronger confidence in the authenticity of official documents.”