Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller

The EU wants to make travelling to France a misery

(Photo: Getty)

Exciting developments may be in store for everyone travelling to Europe from this autumn onwards. That’s to say riots, gnashing of teeth and screaming infants at border control, as stressed travellers and immigration officers go mad trying to navigate a new and apparently dysfunctional European frontier system. This latest gift from our EU overseers looks like it will make life hell for legitimate travellers, while of course doing nothing to stop the surge of unpapered migrants crossing into Europe across the Mediterranean.

Irony is not a feature of European public administration

‘I’m worried, I’m afraid of problems,’ admits Patrice Vergriete, the French Minister of Transport. The Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the House of Lords has called on the government to ‘use all diplomatic efforts’ to persuade Brussels to defer the introduction of the new system, which it warns will cause chaos at Saint Pancras and Dover. That’s gone nowhere.

A smartphone application that’s supposed to lubricate this process is, predictably, not ready. It’s anyone’s guess how non-phlegmatic British tourists are going to respond to this. Maybe Skegness will appeal instead.

Implementation of the new EU Entry/Exit System (EES) has already been delayed at the request of the French, to avoid disruption to this summer’s Olympic games. The French request for a further delay has so far been ignored. Pity the French police who are going to have to confront the wrath of travellers and the screams of children as this hare-brained scheme takes effect.

Irony is not a feature of European public administration. The main advantage of the new system coming into effect in October is ‘saving time’, declares the European Commission, ‘replacing passport stamping and automating border control procedures to make travelling to the EU more efficient for the traveller.’ Is this delusional incompetence or merely grotesquely dishonest? In practical terms it doesn’t matter.

It’s probably exaggerated that there will be 14 hour waits at Dover next time you pop over here to stock up on Claret. Or that it will take longer to get through Saint Pancras than it takes the Eurostar to get to Paris. But the notion that this will save time is a fantasy. A similar photo/fingerprint system is in use at US airports and the last time I transited immigration at Washington Dulles airport I flew through border control in a mere three hours. A border process that has taken a few seconds per traveller is likely to take up to seven minutes.

More than a year ago, Rishi Sunak asked the EU to allow British passport holders to use electronic E-gates at European ports and airports but with dismal predictability this has not been achieved. Instead, every British traveller (indeed everyone not in possession of an EU passport) will be obliged to have their fingerprints taken and be photographed before being allowed to enter the European milieu.

Or perhaps not be allowed. The EES will also make it easier to identify travellers who have stayed in Europe longer than 90 days in the preceding 180 days because – well, the because isn’t really specified. Any masochist who wants the details of this is welcome to consult the EU website here where everything is clarified in a turgidly-written regulation roughly the length of a mass-market paperback.

Awareness that the EES is a disaster waiting to happen appears to have dawned slowly on the dense Eurocrats responsible. Only tomorrow, 29 May, a mere seven years after passing the EES rules, will Frontex, the European border agency, get around to holding an ‘industry day’ to hear of possible integrated solutions for EES-compliant facial imaging capture and fingerprint acquisition.

The extent of the unpreparedness is staggering, even by the standards of the EU. Frontex admits it needs solutions for: reading and scanning documents; queue management software; mobile solutions capable of reading visa/residence documents to confirm validity; biometric data capture and verification solutions for mobile devices; integrated advance passenger information collection and/or ticketing solutions; mobile solutions for collecting/storing personal data on board ships/trains; travel authorisation web solutions; and additional self-service or mobile solutions/apps relevant for the entry/exit System.

As if EES is not enough, the EU has a further treat in store for visitors with the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) that will likely be implemented next year. This will require visitors from outside the EU to apply and pay for a visa waiver before entering a country in the Schengen zone.

Non-EU nationals will have to pay €7 per person to visit most European countries and complete an online application. The visa will not be required for the Republic of Ireland as it is in the Common Travel Area with the UK.

Although the exact launch date is unclear, the EU has previously indicated that it will be introduced five to six months after EES. This looks like becoming an even bigger cock-up than the EES since millions of people in the EU have residency permits despite not being EU citizens, and there appears to be no centralised database of who these people are.

Cue the Ode to Joy. Bienvenue en Europe

Jonathan Miller
Written by
Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, who lives near Montpellier, is the author of ‘France, a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ (Gibson Square). His Twitter handle is: @lefoudubaron

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