Securing the EU’s borders: EU agrees to bolster checks

On 7 March 2017, EU Ministers gave the final green light for a new Regulation which will see checks of individuals entering the EU reinforced against relevant databases.

The new Regulation amends the Schengen Borders Code and obliges EU Member States to carry out systematic checks against relevant databases on all individuals at the EU’s external borders, regardless of whether, or not, they are EU nationals. The obligation shall apply at all external EU borders (air, sea and land borders), both when individuals are leaving or arriving into the EU. Free movement within Europe (the Schengen area) remains unaffected by this Regulation as it only applies to external borders.

Commenting on the final agreement, Carmelo Abela, Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, stated: “Reinforcing our external border controls is an important tool for fighting the terrorist threat in Europe and improving the security of our citizens. Systematic checks at the external borders will provide us with a means to address all potential risks to internal security, including those posed by foreign terrorist fighter returnees.”

The new requirement for systematic checks will see authorities at the EU’s external borders check the travel documents of all individuals against several databases, including the Schengen Information System (SIS) and Interpol’s database on Stolen and Lost Travel Documents. The systematic checks will also enable authorities to ensure that anyone entering the EU does not threaten public policy, internal security or public health, thus strengthening the resilience of the borderless internal Schengen area.

The Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU has made strengthening security in the EU one of its six priorities. It has also stressed work on border security as one of four elements of a holistic EU approach to managing migration. This agreement delivers on this commitment and will be further bolstered by other proposals being negotiated amongst the EU institutions. Notably, a few days ago (2 March), the Maltese Presidency secured a mandate from Member States to begin negotiations with the European Parliament for the establishment of a new Entry-Exit System. This system will build on the systematic checks by ensuring that third-country nationals (non-EU) entering and exiting the EU are properly recorded.

Other measures which are being negotiated include the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which will strengthen checks on individuals travelling from visa-exempt countries prior to their travel to the EU. Through its work on these and other measures, the Maltese Presidency and its Council colleagues in Member States are continuing to tangibly strengthen the EU’s borders and security.

The new Regulation on systematic checks will soon be signed by the Maltese Presidency on behalf of the Council of the EU, together with the European Parliament. It will then be published in the EU Official Journal and will enter into force 20 days later.