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Mandatory checks at #EUExternalBorders: Deal done by MEPs and ministers

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EU-Insight-Balancing-Open-Borders-and-Security-eithin-Europes-Schengen-Area-612x336All EU citizens and third country nationals entering or leaving the EU will be checked against databases, e.g. of lost and stolen documents, under a draft law informally agreed by MEPs and EU ministers on Monday (5 December).

These checks, designed to improve security inside the EU, would be mandatory for everyone. A key goal for Parliament’s negotiators was also to make it possible to ease the new rules at airports, should they slow the flow of traffic there too much.

Parliament’s rapporteur Monica Macovei (ECR, RO) said: “Terrorism is hate without limits, and destroying human life is at the core of hate. Every person has a right to life and every democracy has the right to its values. We want security in a changing world.

"Crises such as the terrorist threat require a rapid and coordinated crisis response. Securing the external borders of the EU can stop the movement of terrorists, weapons and substances of mass destruction. We must do our utmost,” she added. The agreement still needs to be formally endorsed by the full Parliament and the Council.

EU-wide databases

MEPs and ministers struck a compromise on using EU-wide databases as much as possible when doing border checks, in particular the Schengen Information System, the Interpol database on stolen or lost travel documents and other European databases.Nevertheless, the agreement still allows member states to consult national information systems and Interpol´s other databases if they wish.

Relaxing checks at airports

The EU Commission proposal says that if systematic checks cause too lengthy border delays, sample checks could be introduced at EU land and sea borders instead.

MEPs managed to include airports too, by granting national authorities a transitional period of up to six months to adjust their air border infrastructure, plus, if necessary, an additional 18 months under exceptional circumstances. Thereafter, the checks should be systematic. According to the agreed text, member states wishing to ease airport checks would have to demonstrate that this would not lead to risks for internal security, public policy, international relations or public health.

Next steps

The informal deal will be put to a confirmation vote in the Civil Liberties Committee on a date to be decided later. If approved in committee, the deal will be put to a vote by Parliament as a whole and the Council of Ministers. All dates for these votes will also be decided later.

Background

The draft regulation is a response to the rise in terrorist threats in Europe, such as the attacks in Paris, Copenhagen and Brussels in recent years. It also aims to combat terrorist “foreign fighters”, many of whom are EU citizens, irregular migration and human trafficking.

This initiative to amend the Schengen Borders Code (SBC) was presented by the European Commission in December 2015. The amendment will also align member states’ existing obligations to do systematic exit checks on third country nationals, to ensure that they do not present a threat to public policy and internal security.

Aviation/airlines

European #airline passengers face huge delays this summer

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Thousands of flights recently had to be delayed because EU border controls are significantly understaffed to comply with tightened immigration checks — some passengers even missed their flights. During this busy summer travel season, airline travellers have become victims of the disproportionate impact that the implementation of a new EU Regulation is having on the flow of traffic at European airports. The regulation relates to the reinforcement of checks against relevant databases at external borders.

“Member states need to take all necessary measures now to prevent such disruptions and deploy appropriate staff and resources in sufficient numbers to carry out the requested checks. A4E has stressed the disproportionate waiting times and disrupted flow of traffic at external borders with the European Commission and calls for a swift solution on behalf of European passengers and airlines,” said A4E Managing Director Thomas Reynaert.

“Especially during the peak season of the year, travellers face long lines and can’t get on their flights. Queuing for up to four hours has been the top record these days; airports like Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Lisbon, Lyon, Paris-Orly, Milan or Brussels are producing shameful pictures of devastated passengers in front of immigration booths, in lines stretching hundreds of metres. At some airports, flight delays have increased by 300% compared to last year — member states must take the responsibility for this,” added Reynaert.

The regulation is not fully implemented in all member states, which may lead to even more disruption during the coming weeks. The six month period to implement the regulation ends on 7 October 2017. A4E fully supports EU efforts to reinforce controls at external borders so as to preserve Schengen’s free movement area, but member states’ inability to provide efficient resources is directly impacting European airlines’ operations at European airports.

Over the past weeks, airlines have informed A4E of the disproportionate impact that the implementation of Regulation (EU) 2017/458 amending Regulation (EU) 2016/399 as regards the reinforcement of checks against relevant databases at external borders of 15 March 2017 is having on the flow of traffic at European airports.

About A4E

Airlines for Europe (A4E) is Europe’s largest airline association, based in Brussels. Launched in January 2016, the association consists of Aegean, airBaltic, Air France KLM, Cargolux, easyJet, Finnair, Icelandair, International Airlines Group (IAG), Jet2.com, Lufthansa Group, Norwegian, Ryanair, TAP Portugal, Travel Service and Volotea, and plans to grow further. With more than 550 million passengers on board each year, A4E members account for more than 70% of the continent’s journeys, operating more than 2,700 airplanes and generating more than EUR 100 billion in annual turnover.

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Borders

Parliament asks Commission to press for full US-EU #visa reciprocity

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visa-1024x298The EU Commission is legally obliged to take measures temporarily reintroducing visa requirements for US citizens, given that Washington still does not grant visa-free access to nationals of five EU countries. In a resolution approved on Thursday (2 March), MEPs urge the Commission to adopt the necessary legal measures “within two months”. 

The text prepared by the Civil Liberties Committee was adopted by a show of hands.

Citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania still cannot enter US territory without a visa, while US citizens can travel to all EU countries visa-free.

According to the visa reciprocity mechanism, if a third country does not lift its visa requirements within 24 months of being notified of non-reciprocity, the EU Commission must adopt a delegated act - to which both Parliament and the Council may object - suspending the visa waiver for its nationals for 12 months.

Following a notification of non-reciprocity on 12 April 2014, the Commission should have acted before 12 April 2016 but it has yet to take any legal measure. Canada also imposes visa requirements on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens, but it has announced that they will be lifted on 1 December 2017.

In April 2014, the European Commission was notified that five countries were not meeting their obligations towards the EU with regard to reciprocity of visa-free travel: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan and the US.

Australia, Brunei and Japan have since lifted their visa requirements for all EU citizens and Canada will do so in December this year.

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Borders

MEPs and Council negotiators agree to waive EU visa requirement for #Ukrainians

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pasport111Ukrainian citizens will be able to travel to the EU visa free under an informal deal struck by Parliament and Council negotiators on Tuesday (28 February). Once the change enters into force, and provided they have biometric passports, they will be able to enter the EU for up to 90 days in any 180-day-period for business, tourist or family purposes. 

The deal will now have to be endorsed by the Civil Liberties Committee and Parliament as a whole, , before being formally approved by the Council of Ministers.

Parliament´s rapporteur, Mariya Gabriel (EPP, BG) said “adopting the visa waiver for Ukrainian citizens is an important step forward towards reforming Ukrainian society by bringing people together, building bridges across borders. We at the European Parliament are convinced that Ukrainian citizens now deserve the right to travel freely to the EU. The time has come for the Council to deliver results.”

Before granting this visa waiver, EU member states revised the visa waiver suspension mechanism to allow visas to be reintroduced more easily in exceptional cases. This revision was approved on Monday by the Council. The legislation will be signed by Parliament’s  President Antonio Tajani and representatives of the Maltese Presidency of the Council on Wednesday 1 March and enter into force 20 days after it is published in the EU Official Journal.

The EU and Kiev began visa liberalisation negotiations in 2008. At the end of 2015, the European Commission concluded that Ukraine had made the necessary progress and had met all the benchmarks, despite the exceptional internal and external challenges it faced in recent years, and presented a proposal to grant its citizens visa-free access to the EU from April 2016.

The visa waiver will apply to all EU member states except Ireland and the United Kingdom. It does not confer a right to work in the EU.

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