The European Parliament on October 25 approved the amendments needed to integrate the new European Union’s entry-exit system (EES) into the Schengen Border Code.
With a majority vote (496 votes to 137, with 32 abstentions), the MEPs paved the way for the creation of a register of all visa and visa-exempt travellers admitted to stay for up to 90 days.
Under the new EES, which is part of the smart borders package presented by the European Commission in April 2016, all non-EU nationals will also be registered when they enter, exit or are refused entry into the Schengen area.
The system, which is worth €480m, will replace the manual stamping of passports and speed up border crossings, while making it easier to detect over-stayers and document or identity fraud.
Data, which will be stored in the EES for up to five years, can be consulted to prevent, detect or investigate terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences. Data will be also available to Europol and to national asylum authorities.
“The Entry/Exit System will allow for quicker and safer border crossings. It will also help to detect terrorists and other criminals hiding behind a false identity,” said Rapporteur Agustín Diaz de Mer.
In a similar vein, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said: “Today’s vote on the entry-exit system delivers concrete results in a policy area that is crucial to our citizens: their security. The Schengen Area, underpinned by the freedom of movement that it grants, is one of the European Union’s most significant achievements.”
He added, however, that the EU must adapt to more recent security challenges by monitoring external borders much more carefully.
“The fight against terrorism has made improved cooperation between intelligence, judicial and law enforcement authorities essential in making Europeans safer and I am glad that the European Parliament is playing its role in making this happen thanks to today’s vote.”
According to the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group in the European Parliament, the agreement is vital to secure the EU’s external border and manage immigration.
ECR’s spokesman on the proposals, Jussi Halla-aho, said: “An effective European security policy needs a rigorous and efficient border controls and the new Entry / Exit System is a positive step… Much of the data collected by the system could be vital in the fight against organised crime and terrorism – it’s crucial that national police forces and Europol will now have access to the data.”
The view from the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) Group is rather different. They argue the new mass data retention system is too expensive and a shame for the EU.
MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat explained that the texts of the reports debated in Parliament today “were originally intended to facilitate border crossing for the 50 million third-country nationals who come to the EU each year. However, this is now primarily a system for identifying people in irregular immigration situations and facilitating deportations.”
“Under the false pretence of security, Europe is multiplying repressive forces’ access to sensitive data, including in cooperation with third countries like Sudan,” she said. “Europe is turning into a bunker, undermining its own values and picking scapegoats for its problems rather than fulfilling our international responsibilities.”
“We as the GUE/NGL are against this form of mass data retention from travellers. This will cost millions of euros and it is a shame for the European Union,” concluded the French MEP.