Transforming Europe's Borders: The Future is Digital

As governments around the world strive to control the COVID-19 pandemic that has seen borders closed and international travel brought to a near-total standstill, the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU) face an additional challenge: implementing the European Union Entry/Exit System (EES), and transforming Europe’s borders.

Streamlining entry and exit procedure

Due to come into operation in early 2022, EES will replace the current method of manually stamping passports of non-EU citizens (aka Third Country Nationals). It will be an automated technology system designed to register travelers – irrespective of their visa status – every time they cross an external border to the EU. EES will record travel document information, biometric data as well as the date, time, and place of each traveler’s entry to and exit from the EU.

While much of the hard work has been undertaken by the European Agency, eu-LISA, there remains considerable work for EU Member States to ready their systems and processes; and build new capabilities at the national level to interface in real-time with the pan-European system. This will not be without its challenges.

What challenges need to be overcome?

In addition to the design and implementation of the national EES capability, a successful on-time implementation demands collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including government departments, port and transport operators, and technology providers. Border crossing procedures, particularly for Third Country Nationals (TCNs), will need to be redesigned. Staffing levels and schedules will need to be adapted to accommodate the additional workload of registering travelers at the border. New equipment and devices, such as self-service kiosks and handheld devices, will need to be deployed at international ports, train stations, and airports to ensure compliance across all modes of transport. And new capabilities will need to be future-proofed and aligned with ongoing efforts to deliver safe, secure, and seamless traveler experiences at the border.

While the challenges may be significant, they are not insurmountable. Viewing the implementation of EES as a “transformation program”, rather than just a standalone IT project, will enable senior officials to identify the full spectrum of change needed to ensure not only on-time compliance, but also realize wider opportunities to ensure border controls via land, sea and air are efficient and effective.

Rather than seeing EES as a potential obstacle to delivering better, faster, more seamless passenger journeys, EES should be seen as an enabler of fundamental change in the way governments process the millions of travelers who cross their borders every year. Once implemented, EES – and other programs such as ETIAS (the European Travel Information and Authorization System) – will pave the way for us to bring to life the vision of seamless travel, placing the traveler’s digital identity at the heart of border control processes.

One day, in the not-too-distant future, travelers will no longer need to present their physical travel documents or have them manually inspected and stamped. The future of travel is digital. And EES is a vitally important step forward on that journey.

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