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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

EU Regulator Pushes for Better Border Controls

(CN) - Fighting to preserve a borderless Europe in the face of the refugee crisis and escalating fears of future terrorist attacks, the European Commission on Wednesday proposed a full overhaul of the EU's external borders.

Dubbed the "Smart Borders Package" by the commission, the series of proposed bills aims to modernize controls at the European Union's external borders through better information technology, the implementation of an entry-exit system and changes to the law that established borderless travel within the EU under the Schengen agreement signed in 1985.

Key for the commission is better information-sharing among member states, which have historically - and perhaps detrimentally given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels - guarded both information and information-gathering techniques as state secrets. But commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans said Wednesday this would no longer be an option in what's supposed to be a union.

"Border and law enforcement authorities in the EU must have appropriate access to all the existing databases when needed to help them do their specific jobs," Timmermans said. "Better information-sharing is a priority of the European agenda on security and the recent attacks confirm our resolve. We will find a way to do this whilst ensuring that individuals' data is safe and that there is no infringement of their right to privacy. This is about the intelligent, proportionate and carefully regulated access all our information border and security authorities need to do their job - to protect us and the freedoms we defend."

In addition to improvements of the three information systems the EU currently uses to control its borders, the commission proposes setting up an entry-exit system aimed solely at foreign travelers who are both visa-required and visa-exempt. The commission hopes to have the system up and running by 2020 and says it will replace passport stamps and automatically identify travelers who have been refused entry or overstayed their visas - all without hiring more border guards.

The entry-exit system will also provide a record of third-country nationals' travel histories. And rather than rely on 10 fingerprints as a previous proposal suggested, the commission wants to biometrically identify foreign travelers using a combination of four fingerprints and facial-recognition software.

Both the European Parliament and EU Council must ratify the commission's proposals through the legislative process, which the commission said it hopes will happen by the end of 2016.

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