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EU Border Security: Challenges and Perspectives

Submitted by on 26 Mar 2013 – 15:58

By Ioan Enciu MEP, Member of the EP Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

Every year, more than 700 million external border crossings take place at the EU borders out of which about a third are made by third country nationals. Moreover, these figures are continuously rising as a result of an increasingly interconnected world. This growing interaction between countries and people will certainly have to be preserved and promoted not only for its economic or social advantages but also because the freedom of movement is definitely a fundamental principle of the European Union. However, a right balance needs to be found between the need for protecting and promoting mobility and travel on one hand and, on the other hand, the need to preserve a safe and secure area within the European Union while respecting the highest standards of human rights.

Therefore, the discussion about the EU border security strategy should start from these two basic principles, which are equally important. Moreover, the security of the external borders needs to be seen and contemplated not as a separate and independent issue, but should be closely associated with the broader debate concerning the migration and mobility policies of the European Union, especially the reform of the Schengen governance and the creation of a genuine European asylum system. It is my firm conviction that a secure Schengen area cannot exist without a strong and effective Schengen Governance which will guarantee that the rules are strictly respected throughout the common free-travel area. At the same time, it is crucial for the EU not only to protect and secure its borders but also to fulfil its duty to protect migrants’ lives and fundamental rights and thus to avoid any further tragedies at the EU’s external borders.


Increasing the effectiveness of existing tools and systems

Border management is indeed a great challenge for the European Union and should be addressed in a proper way which reflects both the security concerns and the responsibility to protect human rights of migrants and travellers. The EU already has at its disposal a wide range of instruments which can directly or indirectly be used in order to advance towards a better, more secure, more human rights compliant but also more integrated border management.

The broader picture of the IT systems in the area of Justice and Home Affairs has been very effervescent in the last decade and will continue to be so with the upcoming launch of the Smart Borders initiatives. However, before advancing towards setting up new solutions, I believe that attention needs to be given first to a better implementation and an increased effectiveness of the existing or projected tools such as the new generation of Schengen Information System, the Visa Information System or the European PNR Register and the EUROSUR system which are currently under institutional negotiations. In the same time, lessons have to be learned from these experiences and in that sense I believe that one of the priorities of the European Parliament should be the establishment of an oversight and accountability mechanism which would guarantee that no more errors such as significant delays, architecture errors or developments of IT systems and infrastructures without legal instruments are produced.

At the same time, the institutional setup in the area of justice and home affairs is currently under review or reform and it is important to achieve a certain “cruising speed” before evaluating the overall functioning of the general EU border management framework. Frontex has recently gained a new and stronger mandate and its tasks will be further developed under the new EUROSUR system while the Agency for large scale IT systems has been very recently set up, therefore still requiring more time to be fully functional. Moreover, I believe that the mandate of Europol which has important powers in the area of combating cross-border crime or human trafficking should also be reviewed in the near future in order to align its competencies with the new provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.


The challenges of the Smart Border Package

The forthcoming Smart Borders initiatives has been on the European agenda since 2008 and I had the chance to participate in the debates concerning this issue, which I can assure you, have not been always consensual. From my perspective, necessity and proportionality should be the key pre-evaluation elements of the upcoming proposals. Indeed, the main objectives of the Entry/Exit System and of the Registered Travellers Programme which are to increase security, to speed up travel flows and to combat irregular stay are to be welcomed, but many questions arise when evaluating the cost for achieving these objectives, including the financial costs or the challenges for data protection and privacy. Much remains to be analyzed further in the future proposals to be put forward by the Commission, but certain aspects can be already raised at this moment.
One element that should be taken into account is that the development and maintenance of these systems is extremely costly at a time when the situation of public finances in the EU is not the best. I cannot but notice at least a certain degree of incongruence between the demands of the Member States which explicitly asked for more investments in the capacity of the EU to secure its borders and to promote mobility, and the real commitments to the achievement of these objectives, as it was recently seen in the negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework.
Secondly, I believe that a thorough analysis is necessary on how the data will be collected, processed and stored with full respect for human rights and especially the rights to data protection and privacy. At the same time, special consideration should be given to the aspects related to the security of breeder documents and of networks for data exchanges and storage systems. Moreover, there are still questions concerning the actual use of the data collected especially in the framework of the Entry/Exit System and, in this regard, one thing that should be certainly avoided is the use of a future EES system in order to systematically track and follow irregular migrants and overstayers. It is fundamental that the European Union should remain an open and friendly area and therefore the EES should not become, in any way, a scarecrow for migrants.

Ioan Enciu MEP is a Member of the EP Special Committee on Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering, and also a Member of the EP Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs