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REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks
A picture shows "Parafe", an automated border passport control at Orly airport, near Paris on July 6, 2018. (Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP)

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors.

EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks as long as they can prove residency in an EU country however they will still be caught up in any delays at passport control if the new system as many fear, causes longer processing times.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 countries to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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Tips for short-haul foreign travel from Denmark this Christmas

For the past two Christmases strict Covid rules prevented many people from travelling. This year that isn't an issue, but there are strikes, service reductions and high ticket prices to contend with.

Tips for short-haul foreign travel from Denmark this Christmas

Whether you’re a foreigner in Denmark planning a trip to see friends or relatives over the festive season, a second-home owner or you’re planning a Christmas or New Year trip to Denmark, there are several things worth keeping in mind when planning travel.

Strikes

If you’re taking a trip to the UK, be aware that rail workers are currently engaged in a protracted battle to secure pay increases that will help them cope with the soaring cost of living, and have not ruled out further strikes over the festive season.

If you’re going to Italy there are widespread air and rail strikes in November that could continue into December, while Germany has also seen airline strikes. Low-cost airlines in Spain are also staging strike action that is currently scheduled to last until after Christmas.

You can find the latest in Italy here, Spain here and Germany here.

Flying

Many airlines are struggling to bring back staffing to pre-pandemic levels, making it difficult for them to increase the number of flights to meet demand. The current oil prices have also significantly increased airlines’ fuel costs.

Long-haul flights have been particularly affected, with flights from Denmark to New Zealand for a family of four costing around 100,000 Danish kroner over the Christmas period.

Short-haul flights aren’t quite as jaw-dropping but can still be expensive.

One tip to consider, is flying from a different airport to reduce savings. 

“For the first time in six years of living here in Copenhagen we are using Billund airport to fly to the U.K. for Christmas as it was a third of the price of flying out of Copenhagen on the same dates in December,” The Local reader Rachel Prowse said.

Flights for two adults and two children for two weeks over Christmas from Copenhagen to London Stansted currently cost between 3,500 and 4,500 kroner. From Billund to London Stansted for a family of four it costs between 1,700 kroner and 2,500 kroner depending on the flight time. 

Another reader of The Local suggested advance booking and avoiding check-in luggage to keep costs down.

Trains

DSB is the national rail operator in Denmark. Timetables and tickets can be found at dsb.dk, including discounts for travelling outside of rush hours. The timetable for train travel over the Christmas period which includes slightly adjusted times.

Copenhagen central train station has direct services to Sweden and Germany. From Germany, you will have access to the rest of Europe.

Thanks to a newly launched overnight train service in 2021, you can catch an evening train from Copenhagen and wake up in either Hamburg or Berlin.

The train stops in Høje Taastrup and drops off in Hamburg and Berlin the following morning, although there are not many tickets left over the Christmas period. 

The Seat 61 website provides tips on how to travel comfortably and affordably by train. It includes an introduction to train travel in Europe, as well as an extensive search feature to find trains by starting location.

For example the website guides you through taking trains from Aarhus, Aalborg, Kolding, Odense or Copenhagen to Brussels, Cologne or Hamburg. From Brussels you can take the Eurostar onto London.

However be aware that the Eurostar is running around one third fewer services in order to avoid massive queues due to the post-Brexit passport check rules, and passengers are now advised to allow 90 minutes for pre-boarding checks. Financial troubles at the company have also seen ticket prices rise.

The Trainline is an international platform focused on train travel. The company is based in the UK but has extensive coverage of train travel in 45 countries across Europe.

The aim of the Trainline is find to the cheapest tickets for a selected route. Most of the time, this means booking in advance.

Ferry

An overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo for a family of four costs around 3,300 kroner without including meals. 

There are two ferry routes operating between Denmark and Sweden: Frederikshavn to Gothenburg and Grenaa to Halmstad, which costs around 900 kroner for a family of four without a car over Christmas.

You can travel between Denmark and the UK using ferries. You can take a train from Copenhagen to Hamburg, then Hamburg to Rotterdam and sail overnight from Rotterdam to Hull by P&O cruise ferry.

You can also take the overnight ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle by DFDS Seaways cruise ferry. You can get from Copenhagen to Amsterdam by train via Hamburg or you can take the car.

This method may not save you money but can make the journey more fun if you want to avoid airport delays.

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