Saturday

22nd Jan 2022

EU to launch biometric passports by summer

MEPs on Wednesday (14 January) backed new rules on the introduction of biometric passports throughout the EU later this year, while exempting children under 12 years from having fingerprints included in their passports.

The rules were approved at a first reading by an overwhelming majority of MEPs – 594 against 51, while 37 abstained.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The fingerprints of children under 12 were found not to be sufficiently reliable because they change as the child grows older (Photo: Wikipedia)

The parliamentarians underlined the need to improve document security in the EU by introducing "more reliable biometric data, namely fingerprints," and highlighted the different criteria member states currently apply when checking the passport applicants' identity.

"Many countries require that the citizen applying for a passport actually present him or herself in person, together with their documents and photographs, and in these cases the officials at the passport-issuing office can see if that person bears a resemblance to the photo presented," Polish Christian Democrat Urszula Gacek said during a plenary debate on the issue in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

But in some states, in particular the UK, "applications by post are the norm, and the authenticity of the photo is only confirmed by a so-called 'professional person' who has known the applicant for at least two years," she indicated.

The new rules stipulate that all EU countries, as well as in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, should start issuing passports containing biometric elements - such as facial images and fingerprints - as of 29 June this year.

States have until 2012 to fully implement the rules and current passports will remain valid for travelling for most countries until then.

Meanwhile, some member states - such as Germany, France and the Netherlands - have started issuing the new passports before the June deadline.

Exemption for children under 12

However, under a compromise agreed by both the European Commission and the Parliament, children younger than 12, as well as people with certain disabilities making them unable to give finger prints, will benefit from an exemption from the rule.

Although no exemptions were initially planned, pilot projects in some countries found the fingerprints of young children not to be sufficiently reliable, because they change as the child grows older.

"If an agreement had not been found [among the MEPs], everybody would have had to give their fingerprints, even the newborn, as long as they would travel abroad with a passport. So, I would really like to express the satisfaction of the commission" about the compromise agreed, EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot said during the debate.

The new legislation also introduces the so-called "one person, one passport" principle, aiming particularly at combating the traffic of children by introducing passports for them. Up until now, parents' passports often covered their children as well.

Some concerns remain

Some MEPs expressed concerns about the biometric passports, however.

Latvian Green MEP Tatjana Zdanok pointed to the dangers linked to "the extensive use of biometrics."

"We strongly oppose the extensive introduction of biometrics until its necessity is proven beyond reasonable doubt. We believe that it has crucial implications for personal data safety and for fundamental rights," she said.

"We strongly believe that biometrics in passports should only be used for verifying the authenticity of the document or the identity of the holder… We cannot agree that everyone holding a European passport should be thought of as a potential suspect, whose fingerprints are to be stored," she added.

Cypriot MEP Adamos Adamou from the leftist GUE/NGL group echoed these concerns, saying: "The political scope of this regulation clearly seeks to legalise the use of biometric data and puts us in a state of mind of constant surveillance and deprivation of privacy."

More security measures and data collection "only leads to abuses of authority and offences against political liberties", he added.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

EU condemns Slovenian PM's harassment of journalist

Slovenia's populist prime minister Janez Janša attempted to discredit a Brussels reporter after she published a critical article about the state of media freedoms in the country. The European Commission condemned the PM's language - but refrained from naming him.

Interview

Polish editor: Why I blacked out my front page

Poland's right-wing rulers will row back on plans for a "political" tax on free press after a media blackout, the editor of one leading newspaper predicts.

News in Brief

  1. 'No embargo' on meetings with Putin, EU says
  2. Austria to fine unvaccinated people €3,600
  3. MEP: Airlines should start paying for CO2 sooner
  4. Twitter forced to disclose what it does to tackle hate speech
  5. EU watchdog calls for ban on political microtargeting
  6. MEPs adopt position on Digital Service Act
  7. Blinken delivers stark warning to Russia in Berlin
  8. Hungary's Orbán to discuss nuclear project with Putin

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Latest News

  1. Lawyers threaten action over new EU gas and nuclear rules
  2. MEPs urge inclusion of abortion rights in EU charter
  3. EU orders Poland to pay €70m in fines
  4. Dutch mayors protest strict lockdown measures
  5. Macron promises strong EU borders
  6. MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'
  7. Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia
  8. Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us