New biometric border checks: French transport minister ‘worried’

A lack of equipment and police personnel could lead to public order issues on the rollout of the Entry/Exit System, he said in speech to aviation industry

Border checks at Charles de Gaulle airport
The EES will use data kiosks to log the personal information of passengers from outside the Schengen area
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The new biometric checks known as the Entry/ Exit System (EES) scheduled to start at Schengen area entry points from autumn face “serious operational problems” that could lead to public order issues, claims the French transport minister.

The rollout of the EES at ports and airports around Europe has caused a great deal of concern around the EU and in the UK due to the expected delays it will cause (particularly for non-Schengen passengers) when entering and leaving the Schengen area.

A report to the UK Parliament warned that in the very ‘worst-case’ delays of up to 14 hours could affect the port of Dover.

Read more: New EU border checks: Eurostar wants backup plan in case of chaos 

Transport Minister Patrice Vergriete shared his concerns about the EES rollout at a conference for aviation industry federation La Fédération Nationale de l'Aviation et de ses Métiers on May 23, as reported by BFMTV

“I fear problems,” he said. “We are aware of the risk in terms of passenger fluidity. It is a challenge and we must not get this wrong.”

The minister said that it might be beneficial to postpone the EES rollout, but conceded that “this would be difficult to obtain [from the European Commission]”.

The concerns of Mr Vergriete echo those evoked on May 20 by UK foreign secretary David Cameron.

"I think we've made some progress, but I think there are some big choke points at Dover and St Pancras - and I'm really worried about there being long delays for people," Lord Cameron told the European Scrutiny Committee.

"I think it's clear to me that the technology still needs testing and improving,” he said.

Lack of kiosks and personnel

The EES will require non-EU passengers from outside the Schengen area to register their personal information at biometric data kiosks, which will collect their name, passport number, date of birth and nationality. This information will be stored for three years.

These kiosks will also ask passengers several short questions about their reasons for travelling and whether they have sufficient funds for the duration of their stay and enough money to pay for a return journey.

The European Commission has stated that this will not apply to non-EU nationals who hold long-stay visas and/or residency cards for an EU state.

Read more: Must British EU residents give biometric data in new border controls? 

However, the installation of these kiosks and ensuring there are enough to cope with expected passenger numbers has proved a headache in both the EU and the UK (where French formalities are carried out on UK soil, for example, at St Pancras for the Eurostar).

Read more: EES border checks: why your fingerprints may be taken twice

Mr Vergriete says that he had “alerted” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin to these concerns, however the looming security challenges of the Paris Olympic Games are Mr Darmanin’s priority.

"I won’t say that we are not working well with the interior ministry, that would be untrue,” said the transport minister.

“But we have concerns about the number of police personnel and the technology, which could face serious operational problems,” he said, adding that this could lead to “issues of public order”.

The transport minister did not clarify France’s position on the prospective EES pre-registration app, which is meant to help speed up procedures by collecting some passenger information before travellers arrive at the EU’s external borders.

Read more: France slow to comment on use of new EES border check app

The app is still in development and France has yet to confirm if it will make use of it.