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Document 52016AE6889

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and amending Regulations (EU) No 515/2014, (EU) 2016/399, (EU) 2016/794 and (EU) 2016/1624’ (COM(2016) 731 final — 2016/0357 (COD))

OJ C 246, 28.7.2017, p. 28–33 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

28.7.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 246/28


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and amending Regulations (EU) No 515/2014, (EU) 2016/399, (EU) 2016/794 and (EU) 2016/1624’

(COM(2016) 731 final — 2016/0357 (COD))

(2017/C 246/05)

Rapporteur:

Jan SIMONS (NL/I)

Consultation

European Commission, 17.2.2017

European Parliament, 19.1.2017

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship

Adopted in section

3.4.2017

Adopted at plenary

27.4.2017

Plenary session No

525

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

184/0/4

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC considers the intention to create a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), to identify risks associated with visa-exempt visitors travelling to the Schengen Area, as a currently inevitable step corresponding to the threats caused by external and internal circumstances.

1.2.

The Committee welcomes the fact that ETIAS fits into the general strategy of the EU in the area of migration and security as defined by the Commission in its 2011 Smart Borders programme, and that the information gathered via the system will allow for the prior verification of potential security or irregular migration risks to protect EU citizens against persons entering with ill intent.

1.3.

The Committee strongly stresses that ETIAS should fully respect the fundamental rights of applicants and avoid any discrimination. All data, especially relating to sensitive information about health, education, criminality etc., gathered by the system must be protected and access to it should be strictly limited to the authorities investigating criminal activities, terrorism, illegal immigration and other threats. ETIAS must also respect the right of applicants to appeal against refusal to grant them travel authorisation or to withdraw it.

1.4.

The Committee is aware of the need to solve many technical issues concerning ETIAS, especially interoperability and interconnectivity with other data collecting systems and governance. ETIAS should be based on the right balance between risks and safety, at the same time avoiding increased administrative burdens and barriers for visitors travelling frequently to the EU for business, study, medical treatment, etc.

1.5.

The Commission and the Council should also pay attention to the political aspects of the establishment of ETIAS. The relevant countries should be informed about the reasons for the obligation to obtain travel authorisation in spite of a visa-free regime and about the advantages of enabling smooth and fast border-crossing for travellers with travel authorisation. The Commission should also take care that any eventual reciprocal measures from the relevant countries for EU citizens are proportionate to the EU measures.

1.6.

ETIAS should give consideration to people who are not able to apply online and provide ‘application booths’ for applicants at the main departure air- and seaports and also at major land border crossings. All applicants should be allowed to use the services of intermediaries such as travel agencies or transport companies. However, the costs charged by these intermediaries for their services should be monitored and evaluated by EU delegations in the third countries.

1.7.

It will be also necessary to properly define the criteria for the proposed categories of third-country nationals who will be exempted from the obligation to obtain travel authorisation, taking into consideration migration, security or health risks.

1.8.

The Committee calls for solutions to be found for the Member States that have not yet fully applied the Schengen acquis (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania) and consequently have no access to SIS, VIS and EES.

2.   Background

2.1.

The European Union’s citizens expect the authorities to ensure their security in an open Europe. They count on the external borders of the Schengen area to be managed effectively, in order to prevent irregular migration, to ensure both greater internal security and free movement within the Schengen Area and to facilitate the crossing of the EU’s external borders in a world of mobility.

2.2.

Today, around 1,4 billion people from around 60 countries worldwide (1) can benefit from visa-free travel to the European Union and from the principle of reciprocity, which also benefits EU citizens by facilitating visa-free travel abroad. The number of visa-exempt third-country nationals visiting the Schengen countries will continue to grow, with the figures for such individuals crossing the Schengen border expected to increase by over 30 % by 2020, from 30 million in 2014 to 39 or 40 million in 2020 (2).

2.3.

These figures demonstrate the need to put in place an authorisation system similar to those existing already in some countries (USA (3) — since 2009, Australia (4) — since 1996, Canada (5) — since 2016), namely to assess and manage the potential irregular migration and security risks represented by third-country nationals visiting the EU, yet in a lighter and more visitor-friendly way than the standard visa regime, in line with the objectives of the EU’s visa liberalisation policy.

2.4.

In comparison to third-country nationals requiring visas, the competent border and law enforcement authorities have little information on visa-exempt third-country nationals as regards risks they may pose before their arrival at the Schengen border. Adding this missing layer of data and risk assessment to visa-free visitors would bring significant added value to existing measures to maintain and strengthen the security of the Schengen area and would allow visa-free visitors to enjoy their visa-free status.

2.5.

In its 2011 Smart Borders programme, the Commission stated the need for more modern and efficient management of traveller flows at the EU’s external borders, using new technologies to simplify life for foreigners travelling frequently to the EU and to better monitor third-country nationals crossing the borders.

2.6.

The new threats and challenges that appeared in the subsequent years necessitated a revision of the initial Smart Borders programme and, after technical studies and a consultation process, a new legislative proposal was published in 2016 for a Regulation establishing the Entry/Exit System. The EESC adopted its opinion on the EES in September 2016 (6). The recently proposed amendment to the Schengen Borders Code (7) in order to reinforce checks against relevant databases (SIS, the Interpol database on stolen or lost travel documents and other European databases) at external borders, aims to introduce mandatory checking of all third country nationals as well as EU citizens both when entering and when exiting the European Union.

2.7.

To complete this revision process, the Commission published a proposal to establish a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) to strengthen security checks on visa-free travellers (8). This will be an automated IT system created to identify any risks associated with a visa-exempt visitor travelling to the Schengen Area, with 40 million requests being expected from the start in 2021 (9).

2.8.

The information gathered via the system will allow for the prior verification of potential security or irregular migration risks, in full respect of fundamental rights and data protection.

2.9.

ETIAS authorisation is not a visa. Nationals of visa-free countries will still be able to travel without a visa but will be required, as a mandatory condition for entry to the Schengen area by air, sea or inland transport modes, to obtain travel authorisation prior to their journey after payment of a fee (the suggested amount is EUR 5). In order to decide whether to issue or reject a request to travel to the EU, the system will conduct automatic checks (95 % positive results expected) or, if necessary, additional manual prior checks and then either issue or refuse a travel authorisation. The result of this procedure will be communicated to the applicant within a very short period (a few minutes or maximum 72 hours if additional checks are needed) The final decision to grant or refuse entry will always be taken by the national border guards conducting border controls under the Schengen Borders Code.

2.10.

However, prior verification of visa-exempt third-country travellers will facilitate border checks and ensure a coordinated and harmonised risk assessment of third-country nationals and substantially reduce the number of refusals of entry at border crossing points. Although the travel authorisation is valid for 5 years — or until the expiry of the validity of the travel document — it may be revoked or annulled should the conditions for issuing the travel authorisation no longer apply.

2.11.

The proposed Regulation includes a general principle that ETIAS is built on the interoperability of information systems to be consulted and on the re-use of components developed for those information systems, in particular the EU Entry/Exit System (EES). This approach will also achieve significant cost-savings for the set-up and operation of ETIAS. ETIAS and EES would share a common repository of personal data of third-country nationals, with additional data from the ETIAS application (such as residence information, answers to background questions, IP address, etc.) and the EES entry-exit records separately stored, but linked to this shared and single identification file. This approach is fully in line with the interoperability strategy and would include all appropriate data protection safeguards.

2.12.

Europol will be involved in drawing up the ETIAS screening rules and the ETIAS watch-list that will consist of data related to persons who are suspected of having committed or taken part in a criminal offence or persons regarding whom there are factual indications or reasonable grounds to believe that they could commit serious criminal offences or represent other security and health risks.

2.13.

Eu-LISA, the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale information systems in the area of freedom, security and justice, will develop the ETIAS Information System and will be responsible for its technical management. The cost for developing ETIAS is estimated at EUR 212,1 million and the average annual running costs at EUR 85 million. ETIAS is expected to be operational as early as 2020.

3.   General comments

3.1.

The EESC considers the intention to create the ETIAS as a currently inevitable step corresponding to the threats caused by external and internal circumstances. This step may not be welcomed by travellers from third countries with visa-free regime, but it fits into the general strategy of the EU in the area of migration and security as defined by the Commission in its 2011 Smart Borders programme.

3.2.

The Committee notes that the ETIAS proposal aims to fill the gap in the management of the EU’s external borders that allows citizens of visa-free countries to cross the EU’s borders in the absence of proper information on these third-country nationals prior to their arrival at the Schengen border as regards the risks they may pose.

3.3.

The ETIAS proposal focuses on the technical aspects of the system, its governance, the necessary information technology and interoperability and interconnectivity with other data-collection and data-analysis systems (10). The Committee is aware of the extreme complexity of these issues and the need to solve many technical issues so that the system can be fully operational after its launch, which is planned for 2021. ETIAS should strike the right balance between risks and safety, at the same time avoiding increased administrative burdens and barriers for all those who travel frequently to the EU, especially for business, work, research or study.

3.4.

The Committee is convinced that the Commission and the Council should also pay attention to the political aspects of the establishment of ETIAS and should explain to the relevant countries the reasons for its establishment, including the advantages of enabling smooth and fast border-crossing for travellers with travel authorisation and ensuring an adequate level of security while making the information requirements for such authorisation lighter and less burdensome than for the standard visa procedure. The Commission should also take care that if the relevant countries adopt any reciprocal measures vis-à-vis EU citizens, these are proportionate to the EU measures.

3.5.

The Committee recommends that the relevant countries be informed about the proposed system in due time and that the necessary communication campaigns are run so that travellers are duly informed and the system is introduced step by step, starting out as optional before becoming mandatory once it is properly implemented and technically viable.

3.6.

The Committee calls on the Commission to decide on the possible forms of cooperation with the EU security services and to use their expertise to establish risk profiles and compile the ETIAS watch-list.

3.7.

The Committee, in its opinion on the smart borders package, stressed the need to strictly respect fundamental rights and the principle of non-discrimination and of using procedural and institutional means to ensure that all data collected and stored in the system is protected and used appropriately (11). This relates in particular to sensitive personal data on education, health, criminality, etc. In this connection, the Committee reiterates its request and insists that access to the data linked to travel authorisations should be strictly limited to the authorities investigating criminal activities, terrorism, illegal immigration and other threats.

3.8.

The Committee supports the proposed ETIAS structure, which should consist of an information system, an ETIAS Central Unit within the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG) and national units. It will be necessary to monitor the equal and thorough implementation of the ETIAS by all Member States. The Committee supports the creation of a Programme Management Board, which is necessary to ensure effective interaction between the central development team and the Member States, which proved very useful during the development of SIS II.

3.9.

The Committee strongly urges that ETIAS be fully interoperable with other European information systems and interconnected with Interpol databases, and that components of other European systems, in particular the EES, be used, while showing due regard for fundamental rights and personal data protection.

3.9.1.

In this connection the Committee asks the Commission and the co-legislators to take into account the remarks and recommendations of the European Data Protection Supervisor in his Opinion on the proposal of ETIAS (12), especially the requirements to respect the substantial distinctions between migration and security policy areas, to limit the accessibility of personal data, to consider reliability and usefulness of collected health data, to better define the profiling tools for automatic screening of applications and other.

3.10.

The ETIAS watch-list will consist of data related to persons who are suspected of having committed or taken part in a serious criminal offence as defined in the proposal or persons regarding whom there are factual indications or reasonable grounds to believe that they could commit such serious criminal offences or represent other security or health risks. The Committee suggests that, in keeping with European standards, applicants should have the right to know the grounds for the refusal and should have the possibility to appeal.

4.   Specific comments

4.1.

The Committee agrees that the duration of data retention should be set at 5 years, as it is in the EES regulation.

4.2.

The Committee insists that the ETIAS should be able to respond flexibly and efficiently to changes in migration patterns, security and health risks, without having to go through lengthy legislative procedures using implementing and delegating acts, provided that it is subject to democratic oversight.

4.3.

ETIAS should give consideration to people who are not able to apply online for any serious reason. The Committee supports the intention to provide ‘application booths’ available for applicants at the main departure air- and seaports and also at main land border crossings. All applicants will be allowed to use the services of intermediaries such as travel agencies or transport companies. However, the costs charged by them for these services should be monitored and evaluated by EU delegations in the third countries.

4.4.

Given the expected increase in the frequency of crossings of the EU’s external borders (especially its land borders), any opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of border checks should be seized, as declared in the objectives of the Regulation. The Committee therefore suggests that certain information contained in the application for a travel authorisation be made available to the border authorities.

4.5.

The Committee wishes to avoid the potential bottleneck in ETIAS as a result of allowing too short a period for the manual assessment of requests for travel authorisation, because there must be high-quality screening of applicants potentially involving consultations with other Member States and Europol. Therefore the Committee suggests extending the periods for manual assessment and setting strict criteria for such extensions.

4.6.

It will be also necessary to properly define the criteria for the proposed categories of third-country nationals, who will be exempted from the obligation to obtain the travel authorisation, taking into consideration migration, security or health risks.

4.7.

Regarding the proposed fee for the application for travel authorisation, the Committee calls for the following criteria to be met: the fee for processing applications and the means of collecting it should not prevent certain groups of people from requesting travel authorisation, and it could also function as a filter preventing the submission of multiple applications for such travel authorisations.

4.8.

There must be sufficient guarantees that ETIAS is immune to identity fraud, including the possible future use of biometric data.

4.9.

The Committee supports the right of applicants to appeal against a refusal of a travel authorisation, or against it being revoked or annulled.

4.10.

The Committee draws attention to the fact that there are Member States that have not yet fully applied the Schengen acquis (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania) and consequently have no access to SIS, VIS and EES. The issue of how ETIAS is to function in these countries is not mentioned in the proposal for a regulation and the Committee calls for solutions to be found for these States.

4.11.

The Committee wishes to point out that in the case of passenger transport on inland waterways, such as Danube cruises that could, in a non-EU or non-Schengen State, take on board new passengers who do not need visas to enter the EU, ETIAS will have to apply to the crossing of Schengen borders by water.

Brussels, 27 April 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, United Kingdom British nationals who are not nationals of the United Kingdom for the purposes of European Union law.

(2)  The visa-free regime is currently being agreed or negotiated with Ukraine, Georgia, Kosovo and Turkey.

(3)  30 million requests yearly.

(4)  1 million requests yearly.

(5)  3 million requests yearly.

(6)  Opinion on the Entry/Exit System — Rapporteur Cristian Pîrvulescu (OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 66).

(7)  COM(2015) 670.

(8)  Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Travel information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and amending Regulations (EU) No 515/2014, (EU) 2016/399, (EU) 2016/794 and (EU) 2016/1624 (COM(2016) 731 final on 16.11.2016).

(9)  The expected daily amounts, as estimated by the European Commission are: around 107 000 of which 5 % need manual processing. 3-5 % of those cases could be solved at the central unit, while the rest would go to the national units.

(10)  SIS II, VIS, EES, Eurodac, ECRIS, Europol, Interpol databases (SLTD, TDAWN).

(11)  OJ C 271, 19.9.2013, p. 97.

(12)  EDPS Opinion 3/2017 on the Proposal for a European Travel Information and Authorisation System, 6.3.2017.


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