Following the EU plan to tighten controls on foreigners who do not need visa, last Friday in Luxembourg European countries backed a proposal to adopt new security checks for Europe's borderless Schengen area, in which visa-exempt travellers will be screened online prior to arrival.
Dubbed ETIAS, the proposal is based on a US system that would allow EU countries to quickly cross-check identity documents and other details from visa-exempt travellers with a host of databases. This measure was proposed by the European Commission (EC) last November, following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, Brussels in 2016, as well as a result of the chaotic mass arrival of migrants and refugees in Greece.
Nationals from nearly 60 countries currently do not need visas to travel through the Schengen zone, including visitors from the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil, Chile, Argentina as well as European neighbours like Albania and Bosnia.
After the recent attacks claimed by the Islamic State, the EU is trying to prevent terrorism at all costs and the effective sharing of information about borders and security is thought to be a key point for that challenge. For that very reason, the Council and the European Parliament should start negotiations as quickly as possible to reach an agreement before the end of 2017 and ensure it is operational by 2020.
The proposal will "allow us to control in advance entries into the EU and better tackle the problems that people who come to commit acts of banditry and terrorism could pose," French interior minister Gérard Collomb assured reporters on Friday.
Main Features of ETIAS Program
According to the established plan, applicants who wish to travel to the 26-country Schengen zone, which includes 22 EU countries as well as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, will complete an online application for an electronic travel authorisation for multiple entries over three years.
This approach to the management of data, where all centralised EU information systems for security, border and migration management are interoperable in full respect of data protection and fundamental rights. The main features of this approach are:
- European search portal – allowing the systems to be searched simultaneously, in full compliance with data protection safeguards and possibly with more streamlined rules for access to the systems by law enforcement authorities;
- Shared biometric matching service - enabling searches across different information systems holding biometric data, possibly with hit/no-hit flags indicating the connection with related biometric data found in another system;
- Common identity repository – based on alphanumeric identity data (e.g. dates of birth, passport numbers) and detecting whether a person is registered under multiple identities in different databases.
In order to protect the European citizens more effectively, the proposed approach would overcome the current weakness in the EU's data management architecture, thus eliminating blind spots.