Thursday, June 13, 2024

French travel minister joins UK lawmakers in floating EES postponement | Biometric Update

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The European Union’s biometrics-based travel scheme is raising concern in France with the local transport minister not excluding postponement.

Minister Patrice Vergriete says that the Entry-Exit System (EES), scheduled to roll out at the beginning of October could lead to “serious operational problems” and issues with public order. Speaking at the FNAM (French National Aviation Merchant Federation) aviation industry conference last week, the minister floated the possibility of postponing the new border regime but noted that this would be difficult to obtain this from the European Commission.

“I fear problems,” he says. “We are aware of the risk in terms of passenger fluidity. It is a challenge and we must not get this wrong.”

Minister Vergriete added that he has alerted the Ministry of Interior of its concerns over the number of police personnel and the technology. The current top priority of the Ministry of Interior, however, is ensuring that the Paris Olympics go smoothly, according to The Connexion.

Vergriete did not mention the EES pre-registration app which should help cut down times to cross the border. The timeline for the launch of the app is still uncertain.

The Entry-Exit System (EES) was originally planned to be rolled out in 2022 but has already faced several delays. The latest postponement to October 6th was obtained after the French government lobbied that the EES be put off until the Paris Olympic Games have endedv.

The new travel system requires non-EU passengers from outside the Schengen area, including the UK, to register personal information and hand over biometric data at designated kiosks. The EES will be followed by the rollout of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) sometime in 2025 which will require non-EU passengers to pre-register and pay a 7 euro (US$7.60) fee.

French calls for reevaluating the rollout of the travel system follow similar calls from the United Kingdom. Last week, UK foreign secretary David Cameron expressed worries over long delays and the port of Dover and the St Pancras station in London which is home to the Eurostar rail service.

“I think it’s clear to me that the technology still needs testing and improving,” says Cameron.

The Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee also urged for a delay after publishing an inquiry into the EU’s planned border systems, warning that a “major travel disruption” could befall the country.

Lawmakers such as Scottish MP Gavin Newlands have also been expressing outrage over potential queues of 14 hours at the UK border. The UK Home Office says that the European Commission and Schengen states will be responsible for the implementation of the travel scheme at border crossings.

“The UK Government has been working very closely with the EU Commission and the portals to minimize any impacts on border throughput of the planned EES,” the Home Office says in a statement.

Airports, railway stations and ports prepare for EES

Airports are also growing concerned over the introduction of the EES.

Trade association Airports Council International (ACI) Europe says that border processing time will rise by up to 50 percent. The final confirmation for the introduction of EES is not expected until August 28th which is still during the busy tourist season, reports The Guardian

Unresolved issues, such as testing the travel scheme, preregistration app, border delays and passenger awareness, need “urgent attention” from the European Commission, according to Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe director general.

Eurostar has invested 10 million euros (US$10.8 million) in revamping St Pancras station to install 49 biometric kiosks in three areas. Passengers will have to submit their biometrics twice, once before entering the departure hall and the second time while crossing the French border check as the process must be supervised by a European border officer on first entry. After registration, passengers can use the e-gates for three years.

“We’re confident 6 October won’t be a shitshow because of the work that’s going in … we have the right set-up,” says Eurostar’s chief stations and security officer, Simon Lejeune.

Getlink, the company operating the Channel Tunnel between France and the UK, has pledged to build new processing areas at Folkestone and Calais to handle the EES. The Port of Dover, however, has been raising the alarm over the planned changes due to space constraints.

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