Prepare for border changes to start November 6, French airports told

Airport officials say the date is too early for the Entry/Exit System and will lead to significant delays. It is still not known if France will opt to use a phone app

Pre-registration booths like this one will be used in many airports and ports
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Airports in France have been told they must be ready for new EU border controls to begin on November 6 but airport officials are calling for it to be postponed again – to 2025 – saying they need more time to prepare.

Many ports and airports plan to install pre-registration booths and other equipment for travellers to use to speed up the collection of data linked to this European Entry/Exit System (EES).

It is still not known if France will opt to use a phone app being developed by the European Commission to reduce waiting times by collecting some information in advance.

How will it work?

Publicly, the EU refers to ‘this autumn’ as the target for the start of EES but November 6 was confirmed to The Connexion by Nicolas Paulis­sen, general delegate of the airports’ body Union des Aéroports Français (UAF), as the date it had been given by the EU.

It was also given in a press conference held by UAF. EES will be an electronic system to monitor entries and exits from the Schengen area by non-EU/EEA/Swiss visitors.

It will not apply to travellers with French visas or cartes de séjour but they risk being caught up in any queues.

On first entry or exit from the area, visitors will have a photo and fingerprints taken, which will be stored for three years with passport details such as name and date of birth.

It is intended that in due course passport stamping will no longer be required.

Read more: New European Entry/Exit System: 9 key things to know in advance

Paris lagging behind already

Paris airports in particular are not expected to have pre-registration booths in place by November.

UAF president Thomas Juin said: “It is not looking good for waiting times. There are risks of really long queues.”

This is especially the case if extra police are not found, which is a “sensitive point”, he said.

“Today the means are not available and there are too many unanswered questions,” he said.

Mr Paulissen told The Con­nexion: “November 6 was decided at the start of this year.

“We want to delay it to the first quarter of 2025 but, for now, the European Commis­sion is fixed in its position. But this year’s Olympics mean we are unable to carry out work in the Paris airports from May to September.”

France’s larger airports have been working to install dedicated kiosks for passengers to pre-register some information, including photos, before they pass in front of a police booth.

An officer will then check if the traveller is the person on the passport and, on first entry/exit, take a fingerprint scan.

Mr Paulissen said installation is well under way in regional airports, but not Paris.

Nice airport says its kiosks are already in place.

UAF also fears not enough border police (police aux frontières – PAF) will be deployed. Mr Paulissen said last year the Interior Ministry promised to recruit almost 1,000 more.

“There is doubt over that now because of the €10billion of budget savings the government says it wants to make. We understand that, as a result, the 1,000 officers will not, or not all, be recruited. It worries us and we are sounding the alarm.”

It is hoped that extra Douanes officers recruited post-Brexit at small airports will be sufficient to cope there, he said.

Adoption or not of EES app unclear

British tour operator representative Abta said earlier this year that it believes France is not taking up the app option.

It told a UK MPs’ inquiry looking into predicted UK-France travel delays: “Our understanding is that the French have decided not to take up this [app] solution. This is a concern, as it will hinder efforts to facilitate smoother travel at the juxtaposed borders.”

The latter refers to Dover, St Pancras and Folkestone, where French police checks are carried out on UK soil before travellers board trains and ferries for France.

Abta has declined to clarify what its ‘understanding’ was based on.

France’s Interior Ministry said it was too early to comment further on any decision in favour of, or against use of, the app.

App will likely not be ‘a miracle solution’

Anitta Hipper, the European Commission’s spokeswoman for home affairs, said: “The mobile app for pre-registration of third country nationals’ data is under development and will be made available for Schengen countries from the EES start of operations.

“The integration of this app at national level is to be decided by each country on a voluntary basis. There is no legal obligation to make use of it.”

Mr Paulissen said UAF has not been told that France will not use the app but it doubts its effectiveness in any case.

“For the moment, people will not be able to do much with it so it probably will not have much impact on waiting times, which is a disappointment.”

For example, it will not take photos or fingerprints, he said. “There have been tests in Sweden and their airports were not enthusiastic. I don’t think it will be a miracle solution.”

UAF has been told EES will coincide with systematic requests for non-EU visitors’ travel information, including the purpose of the trip, accommodation details and having sufficient funds for their trip.

Such checks are referred to in the EU’s Schengen Borders Code but, to date, have not been systematic on entry to France. Mr Paulissen said the app is expected to collect details such as a destination address.

‘Doubling of passenger-processing time’

It had been hoped that ‘Parafe’ automatic passport gates at large airports could be adapted to help, at least for subsequent entries once a person’s name, photo and fingerprints are in the system.

However, at present, travellers subject to EES are not expected to be able to use these.

Britons, Ameri­cans and some other non-EU nationals are currently allowed to use Parafes but if they do, they then need to ask an officer to stamp their passport so there is proof of their movements in and out of the Schengen area.

Read more: Can US and UK travellers use e-gates at French airports?

Parafes match a traveller’s face with information in their passport chip but are not set up to retain or transmit data.

Non-EU nationals with French long-stay visas or residency cards including Brexit WA cards, who are not subject to passport stamping, are expected to be hit by longer queues, especially if France ends the use of Parafes for holders of non-EU/EEA passports, as UAF predicts.

“We are worried about longer queues and the harm to the quality of service in our airports,” Mr Paulissen said.

“We’re looking at a doubling of passenger-processing time. It will be worse for the ‘first entries’ and better for subsequent trips. However, France, as a major tourist destination, sees many people visit for a one-off trip, so each year we will have many ‘first entrants’.”

He hoped AI could help in the future, perhaps linked to facial recognition, though the use of this is restricted by current French data protection laws.

‘Next big hurdle’ for ferries to face

UAF’s fears echo those expressed in March when leaders from DFDS Ferries, transport body Logistics UK and P&O Ferries were interviewed by a UK MPs’ inquiry into EES.

The advantages of collecting some data ‘upstream’ of the ports was raised several times, including via an app, and there were also calls for “more time”.

P&O’s Jack Steer, who called EES “the next big hurdle that we face”, said: “We all need to

be discussing whether [the autumn] is really the right time for us to go live with a product which is still evolving.

“It would be beneficial to everybody if we were able to delay it a year.”

Read more: New Dover border checks may cause 'alarming' 14-hour delays, MPs told

DFDS’s Jesper Christensen said: “We are so close to the date, without a full and final solution. Technology is the only way forward.”

He understood the border police were “not interested” in having to do checks at a lot of different sites away from ports.

DFDS and Dover were lobbying the EU for quicker development of its app, he said. “If we could get it to work to the standard we would like, it would alleviate most of the problems.”

Coaches are likely to pose particular complications. MPs’ committee chairman Bill Cash said: “It sounds as if there is something radically wrong… I do not understand why solutions are not being found.”

He asked if researchers could help find “a eureka moment”. “Someone must be able to come up with coherent answers.”

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