Travel to Europe was given a boost yesterday as the European Union quietly delayed its plans to tighten entry rules.
Brussels had been preparing to roll out a new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) from May 2023, but this has now been delayed until November.
However, the long-awaited Entry/Exit System (EES), which will require all non-EU arrivals to have four fingerprints scanned and a photograph taken, is still due to come into force in May next year.
Britons will be required to apply online for an ETIAS which will cost €7 and last for two years. It will be similar to the Esta, which tourists must have to enter the US.
The delay to the roll-out will be welcome news to the travel industry, which fears Britons travelling on holiday will be caught out by its introduction. Bosses are also calling for a delay to the introduction of the EES system, which will replace so-called wet stamping of British passports when entering the EU.
Britons travelling to France have been warned to expect huge delays at ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel next summer with the launch of the scheme expected to be chaotic.
Passengers’ biometric data will be captured on their first entry to the bloc after the system is introduced. Under French laws, the information must be gathered in the presence of a border official and cannot be subcontracted.
Insiders warn that while this is a relatively easy process at an airport, it poses significant challenges at ports and the Eurotunnel where the vast majority of passengers arrive by car.
“In our context, virtually everybody crosses the border in a vehicle and in a group,” Tim Reardon, head of EU exit for the Dover Harbour Board, told MPs last year. “There is no such thing as an e-gate for a car, and there is no such thing as an e-gate process for people travelling as a group. They’re all one-at-a-time processes.”
John Keefe, the director of public affairs for Getlink — which operates the Eurotunnel between Folkestone and Calais — said the company is urging the EU to delay the introduction of the system until after next summer. He told The Times the company is also lobbying for the system to be rolled-out in a staggered manner with frequent passengers enrolled first.
“We are exploring all options,” he said. “The issue is that the checks have to be done by a French border official and it cannot be subcontracted.
“Under the current plans everyone will have to get out of their car to be processed, which comes with the added risk of people walking around in lines of live traffic.”
Keefe said that on a peak summer’s day the Eurotunnel handles 600 cars an hour, carrying between 2,400 and 2,500 passengers.
Last year he said: “We would be looking at 1,600 to 1,700 passengers per hour to be processed for the first time. That’s an impossible task in the space that we have available. The risk of congestion is to our motorways, to the M20, the A20 and A2. Once all of those areas are congested, Kent becomes impassable.”
Gareth Williams, the strategy director of Eurostar, also warned of issues because of an “extreme space challenge” in London.
He said he didn’t “currently see a practical solution”, adding that St Pancras would need more than 30 kiosks and an additional area equivalent in size to the entire current check-in zone