Europol and Frontex Express Concerns on ETIAS Development Hurdles

Europol and Frontex Express Concerns on ETIAS Development Hurdles

The launch of the European Union’s new travel authorization system continues to face delays, with both Europol and Frontex blaming the setbacks on the EU’s database agency eu-LISA.

The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) will require citizens from visa-exempt countries to apply for authorization before traveling to the 27-nation Schengen Area.

All applicants will be screened against security databases to identify potential risks.

However, the complex system, originally planned to debut in 2022, has faced repeated postponements.

The latest reports from Europol and Frontex — the EU’s border security agency tasked with developing key components of ETIAS — warned of lingering issues that could hamper efforts to get the system off the ground.

Development Hampered by Tech Delays

As reported by Statewatch, a non-profit organization that monitors issues in the EU, Frontex said that the “highest priority risk” for ETIAS lies with eu-LISA’s ongoing delays in developing critical carrier and traveler support tools for the system.

The absence of these tools, “as well as the risk of not completing on time the sections of the ETIAS website related to the exercise of data subject rights and appeals due to missing input from some Member States,” poses compliance issues, the report said.

Frontex outlined the structure of its ETIAS Central Unit, which will operate 24/7 to process applications, assist travelers and carriers, oversee data management, and coordinate with other agencies.

However, the agency warned that delayed development of “the ex-post/ex-ante assessment functionality for the risk screening of the ETIAS applications” could hamper efforts to vet applicants reliably.

Appeals Process Behind Schedule

The report also cited member state delays in providing needed information for the ETIAS website and appeals process.

Some member states failed to provide approval for appeal process templates to be used by rejected applicants seeking to appeal decisions.

Others did not provide updates on their procedures for appeals and data protection, Frontex said.

Additional member states were slow or failed entirely to provide input on templates outlining data subject rights — an omission Frontex said “would constitute a compliance issue.”

The agency planned an October 2023 workshop on ETIAS data protection issues and has established working groups on the planned ETIAS Screening Board and risk screening operations.

However, the delays overall “are creating challenges for planning and resourcing the ETIAS project (and other EU interoperability projects)” at agencies like Europol, that agency said in its own report.

Europol Role Requires Third-Party Data

Europol’s role will be to provide opinions on ETIAS applications that match data in its criminal databases.

This requires expanded data-sharing agreements with non-EU countries about their citizens. Europol said it has already conducted “outreach activities with key Third Parties to raise their awareness of the future use of Europol data (including the data provided by those Third Parties) in the context of ETIAS.”

The agency said that its ETIAS workflows are progressing well, allowing it to start formalizing its watchlist procedures.

However, Europol warned it is facing a staffing crunch to handle the extra workload from ETIAS.

Even with 20 agents temporarily seconded by Frontex, the agency said that it needs funding for 38 additional full-time posts.

Without added resources, Europol may not meet its legal requirement to provide vetting opinions on applications within 60 hours — “thus impacting the progress of Europol’s delivery of ETIAS work,” the report concluded.

Launch Date in Flux

The reports provide sobering updates about lingering issues facing ETIAS, which was originally due to debut in 2022 after years of preparation and delays.

The system’s launch has already been pushed back twice, with the EU now eyeing a tentative launch window in mid-2025.

However, ongoing delays at the technical and member state levels — laid bare in the recent Europol and Frontex reports — suggest further postponements may be forthcoming.

As the missed deadlines pile up, so too do the challenges facing agencies like Europol and Frontex that must continue resourcing and planning for a system mired in uncertainties.

Until the root causes plaguing ETIAS can be addressed, its viability will remain an open question.