Passenger ports in Europe stress that more time is needed to set up the Entry Exit System (EES) without endangering smooth maritime passenger traffic
The European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) finds that many of the necessary conditions for the entry into operation of the Entry/Exit System (EES) , are not yet met. The level of implementation in most countries is behind schedule, insufficient information is available regarding the deployment of physical infrastructure and new operational procedures, and not enough funding has been provided.
The lack of available space in ports constrains the possibility to introduce sufficient physical infrastructure required to carry out the checks. Many ports already face bottlenecks when several passenger ships call on the port at the same time, with existing staff poorly placed and not numerous enough to perform the checks related to the entry into operation of the EES. The funding needs for the deployment of kiosks, the adaptation of existing infrastructure, and staff training and hiring are in many cases not being met by Member States.
More generally, the spaces in ports where passengers embark and disembark vessels are oftentimes not suitable for extensive passenger checks due to safety reasons. This is especially the case where passengers travelling in lorries and vehicles would be required to leave their vehicles in the port area in order to register their information in the EES system.
Another key constraint is the lack of time available to carry out passenger checks in ports. The business model of passenger ports and shipping companies relies on short turnaround times and the efficient embarkation and disembarkation of passengers. For ferries, ro-ro and ro-pax vessels, the time in port can be less than half an hour.
First partial operational tests of the implementation of EES carried out in relevant French ports (1 tablet, no query of EES database) have found that EES checks for ferries add significant extra time for border crossings in the port. The resulting increase in time needed is a very concerning issue for the sustainability of the business and operational model of ferry traffic.
In addition, simulations of checks of two cruise ships in a German port have found that the impact of EES checks are unacceptable, with checks of passengers taking several hours. The presence of juxtaposed controls in Dover and Calais poses an additional challenge in terms of processing time and infrastructure required.
Therefore, the delayed entry into force towards the end of 2023 would be too soon for ports to be able to get ready for the checks to be carried out necessary under the Regulation, without hampering the smooth operation of in Europe’s passenger ports.
The introduction of EES checks at this time without addressing the key issues outline above could have significant negative effects on cruise and ferry traffic, posing risks to the safe and efficient processing of passengers in the port.
Key conditions necessary for the successful implementation of EES in passenger ports
As part of a constructive approach to solving the issues related to the EES in passenger ports, ESPO has identified key conditions that are necessary for the successful implementation of EES. These should be met before the entry into operation of the EES.
- Sufficient time must be foreseen to allow Member States and ports to prepare for the successful entry into force of registration and checks of passengers as part of EES. The entry into operation should be progressive and foreseen for the low season (November-March) at some point in the coming years, in late 2024 at the earliest.
- The safety and logistical concerns associated with checks in sea ports of passengers crossing the border in vehicles must be addressed and solved as a matter of priority to maintain the quick checks and avoid that the EES biometric checks require passengers to leave their vehicles in accordance with the Schengen Border Code Regulation (cf. annex VI, paragraph 3.2.9).  Possible solutions such as remote checks by border guards, expanded pre-registration and therefore possible amendments to the Schengen Border Code should be tested and seriously considered as part of the entry into operation. It should be noted that most ports are not equipped to carry out such remote checks at this stage. A digital border should be developed to maintain smooth passengers flows at border crossing points.
- Possible special (transitional) arrangements for passengers travelling in vehicles and lorries that are compatible with existing border arrangements should be developed. This should include methods to effectively distinguish third-country nationals from EU nationals travelling in the same vehicle, where the control of passengers with different nationalities could take place when the passenger buys the ticket prior to embarking on their journey.
These conditions should be considered as part of the decision to be made on the entry into operation of the EES expected at the Home and Justice Affairs Council meeting in October.
Europe’s ports remain committed to contribute to the safe and effective implementation of the Entry Exit System.
 Regulations: (EU) 2017/2226 (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/ALL/?uri=CELEX%3A32017R2226) and (EU) 2017/2225 (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32017R2225).
 Point 3.2.9 of Annex VI of Schengen Border Code (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A02016R0399-20190611).