Thursday

23rd May 2019

EU ministers to discuss 'smart borders'

  • Syrian refugees walking across Serbia-Croatia border (Photo: iom.int)

EU interior ministers are meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (8 October) to discuss how to ramp up external border controls and expedite returns of unwanted migrants.

The ministers are hoping to stem the flow of migrants and better manage the number of asylum seekers trying to enter the EU.

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  • EU Council in Brussels (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Around 500,000 were detected crossing the external borders in the first eight months of this year. Most first entered Greece before heading through the Western Balkans and onto Hungary and beyond.

'Smart borders'

Among the ideas is the future roll-out of a €1 billion digital dragnet known as 'smart borders'.

Smart borders is a two-tiered system of biometric scans of visiting non-EU nationals – the registered travellers programme (RTP) and the entry-exit system (EES).

The European Commission had presented the package in 2013 but it was temporarily shelved following concerns over projected costs and possible law enforcement access.

An EU diplomat on Wednesday (7 October) said the Commission is set to make new smart border proposals before the end of year.

"The wider debate on the Schengen external border will also look at how you can use technology better and the commission is bringing forward some proposals on that towards the end of the year on smart borders", he said.

Tanja Fajon, a centre-left Slovenian MEP, is one of the European Parliament's lead negotiators on the file. Earlier this year she lampooned the Commission's original package.

"[The] indiscriminate mass collection of data without a specific just cause must be a concern for all of us", she said.

But interior ministers are set to it discuss and will also listen to a presentation by the Commission for a future European border and coast guard body.

EU border guards

Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande in Strasbourg said the pan-EU border corps is necessary.

The idea is not new. EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos had already spoken about it last November.

The Commission had also financed a feasibility study on it. Published last year, the study suggested a three-phase approach on setting it up.

The final phase proposed an entirely new agency - the committee on Schengen border management (CSBM). It would be composed of border guards under an EU-level command structure.

The Commission, for its part, will make a proposal sometime in December.

The EU's border agency Frontex will be key.

In September, the European Commission announced the agency's mandate would be enhanced in order to get the supra-national border agency up and running.

"This means strengthening Frontex and enhancing its mandate, and developing a fully operational European border and coast guard", it said.

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