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New border system for entering the EU finally gets 2024 launch date

British travellers to Europe will need to submit fingerprints and facial biometrics

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 20 December 2023 06:12 GMT
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The European Union’s much-delayed Entry/Exit Scheme (EES) is due to start on 6 October 2024, The Independent has learnt.

The pan-EU project is described as: “An automated IT system for registering non-EU nationals travelling for a short stay, each time they cross the external borders of European countries.”

British travellers to Europe will need to submit fingerprints and facial biometrics, sharply increasing the processing time at ports, rail terminals and airports.

EES has been repeatedly postponed as individual member states struggle to integrate their border systems with a central database.

France is also understood to have asked that the introduction of EES is postponed until after the 2024 Paris Olympics in July and August to avoid possible delays at a time of maximum pressure on facilities.

According to Eurotunnel, which runs the car-carrying LeShuttle operation between Folkestone and Calais, an introduction date of 6 October 2024 has now been set.

Member states will need to confirm during August next year that they are ready for the launch of EES. Pressure for introducing the system without further delay is mounting because of concern about an upsurge of terrorism.

The Independent has asked the Home Affairs department of the European Commission for confirmation.

The UK was involved in developing the new system before the Brexit vote. The European Union says: “The main advantage of the EES is saving time. The EES replaces passport stamping and automates border control procedures, making travelling to European countries using the EES more efficient for the traveller.”

But the new system will pose problems for operators in finding space at frontiers for extra processing – in particular space for checking fingerprints and facial biometrics amid busy passenger flows.

The challenge is difficult at the two hard European Union frontiers in Kent: at the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone. Passport checks are reciprocal: French Police aux Frontières officials examine documents before motorists board their cross-Channel transport.

If any non-EU national is in the vehicle, under EES the car must stop for biometric data to be registered.

Both locations, especially the port, have limited space for additional processing.

Eurotunnel estimates the average time for processing a car through the French frontier will rise from under 60 seconds to between five and seven minutes.

The firm is spending €78m (£67m) installing facilities at its terminals in Kent and northern France to allow motorists to get out of their cars to provide biometrics.

The Entry/Exit Scheme will apply for arrivals to all European Union countries except Cyprus and Ireland. It is also being adopted by Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Once the scheme is running, the next step required of UK travellers to Europe will be to obtain an online permit, known as Etias. This is likely to be introduced around six months after the EES is running – with an additional six months’ grace period allowed for travellers.

Etias is unlikely to become compulsory, therefore, before the autumn of 2025.

Read our explainer about EES and Etias

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