By January 2020 certain prospective visitors to the Schengen zone will be required to obtain permission to enter it before they travel. There has been speculation in the press about the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), and as of 16 November 2016, we have a clearer idea of its implementation and how it will work in practice.
ETIAS is the EU’s version of the US ESTA scheme. It was announced in September 2016’s State of the Union address, where President Juncker provided an outline of all planned EU-wide initiatives. However, as promised, the EU Commission recently released a detailed proposal about the scheme. To become law across the EU, it will have to go before the European Parliament and Council.
Who will be affected by this?
People who have applied for, and carry visas are well documented. The authorities feel that they don’t know enough about other travellers who do not have visas and are not EU citizens; so-called ‘visa-exempt third country nationals’. Everyone in this category will have to pay to undergo an online security check before travelling. They say if they know who is travelling and where, it will make borders more secure.
When we leave the EU, people with a UK passport entering the Schengen zone will also be subject to this check.
We are facing global threats which necessitate costly checks on predominantly innocent people. The atrocities committed by terrorists within the Schengen zone have shaken the ideological foundations of the Union. The desire for open borders post-WW2 has sadly given way to an insecure feeling modern world.
What will be checked and how?
The system is promising to be quick and simple. You will access the service from the official app or website, and enter your passport and contact details. It will check and verify your information with cross-border databases, e.g., Interpol, Europol, Eurodac, the ETIAS watch-list. If there is a suggestion that you pose a risk to security or public health you will be denied authorisation for travel. However in the majority of cases, there will be no hits and authorisation should arrive in a matter of minutes. They are proposing that it will cost €5 per person over the age of 18 and will be valid for 5 years.
If you are denied permission you are allowed to appeal. They indicate that you will have to check with the country which has refused you entry, and it will be subject to their national laws.
Ironically the members of the European Parliament were critical of the US ESTA scheme when it was launched. As it was originally justified as a tourist tax, they worried about how the scheme would impact on tourism; however, the focus is now unashamedly on security. It will be interesting to hear the up-coming parliamentary debates on ETIAS and how the changing climate of fear will appear in the rhetoric.