During the last meeting of EU ministers of home affairs under the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU, a Council agreement was secured by Maltese officials on a compromise text for a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).
Once it comes into effect, the deal, which is similar in purpose to the Unites States’ ESTA scheme, will establish a common system whereby nationals of countries which do not need visas to visit Europe will still need to be vetted and checked by EU authorities prior to being given approval to travel to the EU.
ETIAS will help improve security and protect European citizens. It will require all those who do not need a visa to be checked before they travel to the Schengen area. Anyone posing a risk will therefore be able to be prevented from coming to Europe by the authorities. The agreement is another tangible result of the Maltese Presidency in ensuring better border control and improved security for the EU.
In practice, the system will allow for advance checks and, if necessary, the denial of authorisation to visa-exempt third-country nationals from travelling to the EU. It will help improve internal security, prevent illegal immigration, limit public health risks, and reduce delays at the borders by identifying persons who may pose a risk in one of these areas before they arrive at the external borders.
During the Maltese Presidency’s meeting of EU home affairs ministers, several other important issues were discussed, including migration in the central Mediterranean and the various proposals under the reform of the EU’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS). With regard to the latter proposals, the Maltese Presidency has been working very hard on several files and hopes that it will be able to announce good news on some of them in the last three weeks of the month.
With regard to migration in the central Mediterranean, the Malta Declaration which was signed by EU heads of state and government in February was a watershed moment. The Maltese Presidency has worked intensively since then to ensure that all Member States and EU institutions meet their commitments in its implementation.
Another element of the discussions was a fruitful exchange on how to make the EU’s return policy more effective for those who are illegally present in Europe and do not qualify for international protection. Finally, Ministers also discussed legislative proposals aimed at improving the Schengen Information System (SIS) in order to provide guidance on further technical work.
The variety of different policies and legislative proposals put on the meeting’s agenda by the Maltese Presidency was reflective of its commitment to addressing migration in a holistic manner rather than just focussing on a specific dimension at the expense of others. The Maltese Presidency has been lauded by other Member States and EU Institutions for this approach and the many results it has achieved in pushing forward the Unions’ migration and asylum policies. With just a few weeks left in its semester, it is aiming to make even more progress and reinforce the legacy it has already achieved.