Going digital, the strategy for a safer and more secure Europe
The strategy for a safer and more secure Europe? Simply put, going digital. In July of 2018, the European Union (EU) lawmakers gave the go-ahead for ETIAS, a digitized European Travel Information System. ETIAS is just one initiative the European Parliament has adopted to help make Schengen Area travel safer for all and a lot easier for legitimate, short-term travelers coming from the United States.
ETIAS, scheduled to go in effect January 2021, will allow for advance checks and help close the information gap on visa-free travel within the Schengen Area of Europe. If travelers’ country of citizenship is an ETIAS-eligible country, they have the option to apply for an ETIAS visa travel waiver instead of a traditional visa.
Adopted along with ETIAS are tighter regulations within the Schengen Information System (SIS), also scheduled for a complete rollout in 2021. Both ETIAS and SIS will be integrated, giving authorities and other EU agencies the information they need to strengthen security.
Travelers posing a risk or threat will be identified before they get to Schengen Area external borders or their Schengen country of entry, making travel to the area safer for all. It’s important to note that an approved ETIAS will not guarantee entry into a country. Border control of that country has the final say.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), ETIAS is a critical first step in the “digitalization of travel.” The end goal is the use of biometric technology – think fingerprints and facial recognition – to help provide the ultimate in security.
The European Union (EU) agency driving this digital initiative is eu-LISA, the European Agency for the Operational Management of Large Scale IT Systems. It’s the very first EU agency established for the sole purpose of border and migration policies. Since it began operations in 2012, eu-LISA has been moving toward an all-digital, interoperable system so every key EU agency can get critical information to people on the front lines, such as border control and police.
“Today, the area of internal security is going through a major transformation, moving from the physical to the virtual world” according to the eu-LISA Executive Director. “Security is more and more dependent, not on physical resources available, but on digital data and information…this transformation can be addressed only through sophisticated, flexible and cohesive systems and solutions for law enforcement cooperation and integrated border management.”
The harmonious and free movement of people between borders is one of the fundamental freedoms upon which the Schengen Area was founded. However, as the political environment continues to evolve, member countries face the threat of serious crimes, terrorism and migratory pressure.
In our global culture and economy, Europe has always been an open and welcoming space. But better, smarter and stricter regulations have become a necessity for many European countries – regardless of whether or not they’re within the Schengen Travel Zone. Moving information systems to digital platforms and the rollout of ETIAS will help maintain the Schengen Area’s visa-free values while improving and increasing security measures.