Border control - one single EU border
One of the fundamental principles of the EU project is free movement: EU citizens should be able to move freely and easily between member states. This means the withering away of borders within the Union and, concomitantly, the strengthening of controls at external borders.
In 2004 the rights of EU citizens and their families to move and reside within the Union were set down in a codified and simple way in a single
. There is an unrestricted right to travel with a valid passport and a right to reside for three months – thereafter a residence permit may be required. This directive must be transposed into member state law by March 2006.
At the same time progress is being made towards eradicating internal borders. The first step was the 1985 Schengen agreement, which became a Convention with nine signatories in 1995. The Amsterdam Treaty of 1999 incorporated the Schengen acquis (set of rules) into EU law and these are now recognised by all EU countries except the UK and Ireland.
Border Control Code
The details on rules and procedures to be followed at external borders were contained in a Common Manual, published in December 2002. However, like Schengen itself, the legal status of the manual was unclear. It was also something of a hybrid, being part a practical handbook for border guards and part an instrument creating legal rights and obligations. In 2004 the Commission issued a proposal to rewrite the manual to clarify the distinction between legal provisions and procedural rules and create a consolidated code on rules for checks at the border, with one part on external borders and one part on internal borders.
Schengen Information System (SIS)
The SIS computer database was set up in 1995 as a means of holding checkable information that would allow the abolition of internal borders. It originally contained information on criminals on the run, previous asylum applications, stolen cars and other stolen property. On 1 June 2005, the Commission published proposals to upgrade the system to SIS II - to incorporate the new member states and include new functions. The new system will contain biometric data and be used to store and disseminate information on extradition, third-country nationals refused entry to the EU and individuals subject to a European arrest warrant or under surveillance for criminal activity. Non-Schengen states, the UK and Ireland, will only have access for police and judicial co-operation matters. By a separate regulation, vehicle-licensing authorities will also use SIS II to track lost or stolen cars.
New member states
The ten 2004 accession states will be incorporated into the Schengen area and, by the June proposal, into SIS II, by 2007. New EU citizens will have a right to travel freely but there may still be checks at borders between old and new member states. A budget of €960 million for 2004-06 has been allocated to help new member states strengthen their border security and implement the SIS II system ready for 2007. They will be assisted by the External Borders Agency.
External Borders Agency
The Regulation establishing a European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders (External Borders Agency) was adopted in October 2004. It is to be a co-ordinating agency, providing technical and training aid to member states. It will have its base in Warsaw and commenced work on 1 May 2005.
By a 2004 Council regulation, all newly-issued EU passports must contain digital facial images by mid-2006 and biometric fingerprints by the end of 2007. The biometric data and personal details will be stored on the chip itself in the passport, in national databases and in the Schengen Information System (SIS II) (see above and our LinksDossier on biometrics).
Different systems of what are called ‘biometric identifiers’ exist. The principal elements of these are fingerprint data, facial scanning and iris recognition. The United States has set up a
programme, as a fast-track entry system for visa holders, which uses fingerprint scans.
There is concern that passports containing biometric data will not be secure. Chips available at present can be read by remote readers, i.e. without putting the passports through a machine and without the holder’s knowledge. In addition, it appears that if more than one chip is put in any document, the chips ‘fight’ with each other – rendering both inert.
, from January 2005 the European Parliament has had co-decision powers over border control, visa and illegal immigration policy. Parliament’s Michael Cashman, reporting on the proposed border code, supports the idea of the abolition of internal borders but stresses the need for a non-discriminatory approach to non-EU nationals. He also states that there is a need for controls on implementation of the rules by the member states. Parliament approved the proposed regulation on the community border code at first reading on 22 June 2005.
Statewatch has consistently argued that a whole raft of measures are being taken under the vague general heading of 'prevention of terrorism' which are not specifically aimed at terrorism. In April 2005, it joined other civil liberties groups to form the International Campaign against Mass Surveillance.
The Commission’s independent Joint Research Centre prepared a report on biometrics for the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, published in March 2005. It recommends that it should be made absolutely clear by governments for what purpose any biometric data will be used, that safeguards for those not able to provide biometric data should be developed and that more research and field trials are needed.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland declared their intention to join Schengen by October 2007 in September 2006.
Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Alexandr Vondra said: “We will work together in such a direction so as to keep to this date, or at least will proceed in such a way so that blame for any delays cannot be laid upon the shoulders of our four countries.”
- The External Border Agency was formally inaugurated on 30 June 2005;
- Parliament approved the border control code on first reading in June 2005;
- Schengen provisions to be extended to new member states by 2007;
- SIS II to be rolled out in March 2007.