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EES: When will Europe's new passport system be launched?

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street
Claudia Delpero, Europe Street - [email protected]
EES: When will Europe's new passport system be launched?
Will the EU's new EES passport check system be delayed again? Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

It's already been postponed several times but could Europe's new biometric Entry/Exit border system (EES) be delayed again? Here's what we know so far about the start date for the new system.

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Originally planned for May 2022, the EU's new biometric passport checks for non-EU citizens at the Schengen area's external borders are currently due to come into effect in the autumn.

The current launch date, October 2024, was chosen to avoid periods of peak traffic and France in particular had requested to avoid it being launched until after the Paris Olympics this summer.

The start date has been widely reported in the UK as October 6th, but when asked to confirm the October start date a spokesperson for the EU's Commission told The Local that the "roadmap" for the EES IT system foresees it will be ready for Autumn 2024.

But the actual start date, in other words, the day when passengers will have to register, would be confirmed nearer the time.

The spokesperson said: "The exact date will be determined by the European Commission and announced on the EES official website well in time for the start of operations.”

READ ALSO: Your key questions answered about Europe's new EES passport checks

But the reasons are adding up to suggest an October start date is optimistic, perhaps even unlikely.

The latest warning came on Tuesday a committee of the House of Lords in the UK released a report calling on the UK government to "use all diplomatic efforts" to persuade the EU to announce a further delay or risk border chaos. 

The committee believes the EES system should not be launched until the EU's new EES smartphone app (more info below) is ready.  The UK government reacted by simply saying it would work with the EU to minimise any impact.

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In the annual report on the ‘State of Schengen’ published recently, the European Commission spelt out that severe challenges remain if member states are to be ready on time.

“In 2023, efforts to ensure the entry into operation of the Entry-Exit System in the autumn of 2024 were accelerated... While important progress has been made across the Schengen area, some Member States are still falling behind, notably regarding the effective equipment of border crossing points. The Commission calls on all Member States to urgently accelerate preparations to ensure the timely implementation of the system...”

READ ALSO EES: Why is the UK-France border such a problem?

A map in the report shows that preparation is still “in progress” in 13 Schengen area countries, including Germany, Norway and Switzerland. “Outstanding issues” still impact Portugal, Malta and Bulgaria.

The state of play for the preparations for EES across EU and Schengen states. Image: European Commission.

There are also reports that EU heavyweight Germany is trying to persuade Brussels to delay.

Matthias Monroy, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP claimed on his website that “the German government is lobbying in Brussels to postpone the date once again, as otherwise the German tests of the EES cannot be completed in full. Other EU countries are also behind schedule, with only eight of them having reported successful integration.”

Even on a French government website it talks of EES being rolled out some time "between the end of 2024 and 2025" rather than stating October 2024.

And according to recent media reports, French airports have been advised to be ready for November 6th, rather than October. 

READ ALSO: EES and Etias - what are the big upcoming travel changes in Europe?

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A planned EU app, believed to be essential to the smooth operation of EES because it would allow non-EU visitors to register in advance of travel will not be ready, Gwendoline Cazenave, Managing Director of Eurostar International, the company operating train services via the Channel Tunnel, has told the BBC. The EU however insists the app does not need to be up and running before EES is introduced.

In the UK, which will be heavily impacted by EES due to the fact it is no longer in the EU and so British travellers are no longer EU citizens, the House of Commons European scrutiny committee is conducting an inquiry on the potential disruption the introduction of the EES will cause at the border.

Several respondents have recently raised the alarm about the possible delays the system could cause, especially at the UK-France border, which is used by millions of passengers each year who head to France and other countries across Europe.

Ashford Borough Council in Kent has warned of the possibility of more than 14 hours queues to reach the Port of Dover, which has already been struggling increased checked after Brexit.

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The BBC reported that back in March, a P&O Ferries director said the IT system should be delayed again.

Airlines have also complained about the fact pre-travel EES requirements would make last minute bookings impossible.

The Union des Aéroports Français (UAF), which represents airports in France, has simply said more time is needed.

In other words, it would be little surprise if the roll out was delayed again beyond October 2024.

But the Commission spokesperson told The Local that “the timeline for the entry into operation of the EES took into account all the necessary activities to be performed by all relevant stakeholders to ensure a timely entry into operation. 

“The Commission is working very closely with eu-Lisa [the EU agency in charge of the IT system], the Member States and carriers to ensure that everything is ready for the timely and successful launch of the Entry Exit System.

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"The roadmap for the delivery of the new IT architecture foresees that the Entry/Exit system will be ready to enter into operation in Autumn 2024."

New digital border

The EES is a digital system to register travellers from non-EU countries when they cross a border in or out of the Schengen area, the travel-free area. It will be deployed in 29 countries across Europe including 25 EU states plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Ireland and Cyprus are the only EU members who won't apply the EES system.

It doesn't apply to non-EU nationals who are legally resident in an EU/Schengen area country or those with dual nationality of an EU /Schengen county. The system was designed to increase security and to ensure that non-EU nationals visiting the Schengen area short-term do not stay more than 90 days in any 180-day period.

Instead of having the passport stamped, travellers will have to scan it at self-service kiosks before crossing the border. However, fingerprints and a photo will have to be registered in front of a guard at the first crossing and there are huge concerns the extra time needed could generate long queues in the UK, where there are juxtaposed border checks with the EU.

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Preparations are ongoing throughout Europe and some countries have made good progress.

In France, Getlink, the operator of the Channel Tunnel, has recently reported that new EES infrastructure is finished at its French terminal of Coquelles, which will allow travellers to register their biometric data while travelling.

Eurostar is also installing 49 kiosks in stations for the registration of passengers. But the Union des Aéroports Français (UAF), which represents airports in France, said more time is needed.

Exempted

Meanwhile, the Polish government has urged UK citizens who are beneficiaries of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement to get a residence permit “in the context of EES/ETIAS”, even though there was not such an obligation to stay legally in Poland post-Brexit.

“Having such a document is beneficial as it will exempt from future Entry/Exit System (EES) registration when crossing external borders and from the need to obtain an ETIAS travel permit in relation to short-term travel to EU/Schengen countries,” the government page says.

This article as published in collaboration with Europe Street news.

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Rossana Dowsett 2024/05/22 09:18
As a dual national, I leave and enter the UK on my British passport but enter and leave the EU on my Italian passport. Will that still work with the new system? I am a UK resident with a second home in Italy.
  • ben.mcpartland 2024/05/22 15:08
    Hi Rossana this article should answer your question. https://www.thelocal.com/20240422/reader-question-what-do-europes-ees-passport-checks-mean-for-dual-nationals
  • Emma Pearson 2024/05/22 09:51
    Hi, you can find more detail in exactly how the system will work here - https://www.thelocal.com/20240416/europes-new-ees-passport-checks-your-questions-answered
Christine 2024/04/27 11:17
Already operational at Milan Malpensa. The problem is that only 2 machines (out of 5) are ever working at a time. Now that they are herding American and UK arrivals into a separate line our wait is rarely less than 1 hour … 1.75 hours on April 3. Meanwhile Italian citizens and ‘all other nationalities’ sail through. Nothing like making your legal foreign residents, who by the way do pay taxes, feel welcome.

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