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Smarter EU borders equals smarter EU security

Submitted by on 13 Dec 2010 – 16:55

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström MEP, outlines the measures needed to strengthen the security of the EU’s borders

The world appears smaller today than when I was a child. Globalisation and technological developments have made our means of communication ever more sophisticated. People are connected in real time across the globe while transport is fast, cheap and increasingly accessible to more and more people. This is something that most of us enjoy and take advantage of. It has become easier to travel, explore the world, do business across international borders and so on.

However, there is a drawback to this evolution. As Europe has become more accessible for both businesses and tourists, Europe’s wealth and resources are also attracting criminal organisations. Drugs, illicit or counterfeit goods or, even worse, women, children and men, are smuggled into the EU. How can we efficiently fight such challenges?

A traditional security doctrine would advise that borders should be reinforced, but the answer is not that simple. Turning borders into walls is not the way forward for a European Union that respects values such as human rights and free movement. We cannot turn our backs on those who are in need of protection, or those who come to Europe looking for a better life. Neither can we penalise a large number of well intentioned travellers who would then be obliged to wait in long queues to be checked and questioned before getting through the wall. Many tourists and businessmen would understandably think twice before entering Europe, which would cause potentially significant losses for the European economy.

Throughout my mandate as Commissioner for Home Affairs I intend to pursue a border management policy based on the respect for both security and freedom. Faithful to my liberal values I believe that restrictions to freedom of movement should be minimal and always proportional to the security risk. At the same time the EU must have a policy of zero tolerance towards organised criminals and their networks. We must make use of the new technologies to make our borders smart so that we can reconcile these two policy goals.

Large scale border management projects such as SIS, VIS or the upcoming Entry/Exit and European Surveillance Systems will greatly contribute to anticipating and disrupting criminal activity. On the other hand, the automated border controls and the Registered Traveller Programme will make it extremely easy for well intentioned travellers to cross any border via dedicated border gates.

We have to move away from the traditional border controls where every person is checked by a border guard. This is not sustainable for anyone. For one thing, the number of staff would have to increase proportionally to the number of travellers. If we use intelligence based risk analysis in combination with technological solutions we will instead allow for the human resources to be allocated where they are best needed.

The Commission has a clear and concrete plan for the implementation of this border policy, as outlined in the Stockholm Programme and its Action Plan. We will take the next step in turning these plans into reality in the action-oriented Internal Security Strategy which I will present later this year. That strategy will devote one part exclusively to the operational implementation of the border management policy.

When I first took office in February 2010, I proposed to reinforce the EU external border agency Frontex, whose role is to assist Member States in dealing with exceptionally difficult situations at its borders. Any Member State can be confronted with difficult border situations that it lacks the necessary expertise, staff or equipment to deal with. In such situations, Frontex should be able to help quicker than what is the case today.

Next year, I will also propose a Registered Traveller Programme and an EU Entry/Exit System, which will represent a follow up step on the road to the future of smart borders. This will be completed with the launching of the EUROSUR project later in 2011. EUROSUR will establish a mechanism for national authorities to share operational information related to border surveillance. It will be used for cooperation between Member States, but also in the cooperation with Frontex at tactical, operational and strategic level. EUROSUR will make use of satellite imagery and other new technologies in detecting and tracking targets at the European border – for instance tracing fast vessels transporting drugs to the EU.

The EU needs to adapt its borders to the reality around us. I believe that we have the tools needed to do this, but we need to use these tools wisely and with continued respect for the values that our European cooperation is founded on. The key to getting smart borders which both makes life easier for people travelling to the EU while at the same time are efficient in stopping criminal activity is to join forces. Some of the necessary tools are in the hands of the Commission while others are managed individually by Member States. With mutual trust and information sharing, we are well on our way to getting better managed and smarter borders for the EU.