New challenges for the Schengen system: EC Home Affairs discuss it on Thursday 7th March

Next 7th March 2013, the Justice and Home Affairs Council will be called to make a core decision about the institution and the functioning of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), but it is also expected to discuss other topics like border controls for third country nationals or accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen Area.

The Schengen Information System is a European tool to obtain information about certain categories of people and goods moving across Europe, and it has always been considered one of the main credentials to assure security, freedom and justice among the Schengen zone. This allowed the authorities of each Member State to access the information recorded in the system in order to cooperate in crimes´ prevention. Originally, the Commission evaluated 18 States as the maximum capacity of the system, but with the perspective of the new European enlargement, the whole structure required a deep change. Clearly, the project needed to be modified to allow the newcomers to be fully integrated in this Europe “sans frontières”. Consequently, in 2002, the SIS II started to be developed. This new evolution ensures a stronger data protection and the employment of the newest technologies (biometrics, for instance) to facilitate direct contacts and queries on the system.  The whole structure is composed by three pillars: there is a Central System, several decentralized systems (one per each Member State) and a communication network linking both levels of competences.

This is not the only important argument to be discussed by the Council: the introduction of an evaluation and monitoring system to verify the application of the Schengen acquis is, in fact, being considered; as well as the readmission of internal controls in certain circumstances (lack of external controls, serious menace for internal security, etc). The complete application of the Schengen acquis to Romania and Bulgaria will also be debated, but the official declarations made so far are negative: Germany is in fact ready to impose a veto if the two countries insist for voting. The Dutch Government, as well, is planning to block their entrance.

Furthermore, the Commission will also present an innovative tool called “Smart Borders Package“: according to them, its aim is to enhance mobility and security thanks to more comprehensive procedures of borders´ control . The target groups of the Package are third country nationals travelling to Europe: as the EU estimates that non-European residents´ contribution is approximately €271 billion each year, Europe is trying to facilitate their movements across borders and to be more captivating as possible for the others.  On the other hand, the reduction of bureaucracy is a real attractive prospective, especially for those who are likely to cross the European borders several times in a year.  The “Smart Borders Package” includes three different proposals of regulations:

  • A Registered Traveller Programme (RTP): non EU residents will enter in Europe using an automated border control systems, making the process easier and faster than before,
  • An Entry/Exit System (EES):  an electronic system will record the entry and the exit of third country nationals, replacing the manual one.  An alert will also automatically call the attention of the authorities when some improprieties occur,
  • An adjustment of the Schengen Borders Code to allow the establishment of the RTP and the EES.

Generally, the SIS II and the “Smart Borders Package” have not been welcomed with enthusiasm by the civil society, especially by experts: there is, in fact, a slight difference between a “reporting” system and an “inspecting” one, and sometimes the definition of the two concepts can be somehow interchangeable. The fast connection between the recording system and the national authorities clearly implement this risk.

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