Since the creation of the Schengen area, internal borders have been abolished, allowing people and goods to move freely across the area. Nonetheless, managing external borders and ensuring internal security are among the biggest challenges of the European Union although common management practices and enhanced cooperation mechanisms have been set up.
Obviously, it did not happen overnight. It all started in 1995 and it is still under construction today as new challenges keep arising. Luckily, efficient technological solutions exist to monitor and secure our borders. The European Union (EU) has acknowledged the situation and responded by creating eu-LISA, the European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems. Upon its mandate, the Agency is meant to maintain the current EU Information Systems used by police officers and border guards across the Schengen area and to develop future IS that will implement the forthcoming regulations.
Three major systems are already available. First, there is the Schengen Information System (SIS II) allowing the police and border guards to share alerts on persons or objects in order to find them for different purposes (arresting a fugitive, finding a missing person, seizing a stolen object, etc.). Then there is the Visa Information System (VIS), which supports the handling of visa applications to enter the Schengen area. Finally, there is the European Dactyloscopy (EURODAC), a system for the recognition of fingerprints of asylum seekers, which helps to determine the Member State responsible for the examination of their applications in accordance with the Dublin regulation.
In addition, new Information Systems will emerge in the coming years. First, the Entry/Exit System (EES) will facilitate the processing of third-country nationals (TCN) crossing the EU external borders. Secondly, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will allow authorities to perform a screening of travellers from foreign countries who do not require a proper visa to enter the Schengen area. Thirdly, a new centralised system will be developed to facilitate the exchange information on the criminal records of TCN and stateless persons: the European Criminal Records Information System for Third Country Nationals (ECRIS-TCN). It will complement the current decentralized ECRIS that mainly covers EU citizens’ criminal records.
The challenges arise at two different levels: central (EU) and national (within the Schengen or EU Member States). At central level, the current systems mainly work in silo: they do not really talk to each other. In order to optimise the use and the management of the data they contain, the European co-legislators agreed on two new regulations on Interoperability, which will mutualise several key components, such as a shared biometric management system, and avoid data duplication amongst the central systems. At national level, the challenges are plenty when it comes to the interfacing of these new EU Information Systems with the current national systems. Beside the IT aspects, there are budgetary, legal and business-related matters that should not be underestimated.
In future articles, we will dig more into the current and new Information Systems along with their respective challenges.