Strengthening EU's External, Internal Borders to Combat Terrorism

  • Tereza Novotná (CSAP)
  • 27.11.2017 14:29

The current situation related to migration and increased level of terrorist activity within the European Union often linked to the problems of foreign fighters steered the continent into an unstable situation full of visible gaps in the European security. It is estimated that 5,000 EU citizens have travelled to conflict zones and joined terrorist groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

In the current security context, some of the European states have partially closed their borders or increased quantity of occasional checks on their territory, which can be perceived as a proper reaction. Moreover, according to the rules established by the European Commission, EU member states can reclose their borders for a period of five days with a possible extension up to six months. But is the reappearance of the internal borders between the Member States a real possibility?

Some argue that in such occasion, the state institution would become aware of all possible illegal or suspicious movements of people, weaponry or goods, which would, in turn, help them to detect and disrupt a terrorist network as well as other illegal activities. On the other hand, it needs to be noted that non-existing internal borders are the main support of the four basic freedoms maintain the Single Market, the symbol of European integration and enlargement. Their closing would have a great impact on international trade in terms of regular checks of people and goods at the borders, which would cause not only time-losses due to proper border controls, but it might cause an increase in travel and transport costs as well.

Strengthening external borders

First signs of strengthening external borders can be seen in the Counter-Terrorism Strategy 2005 and Revised version of 2008 (call for the establishment of Schengen Information System II (SIS II), Visa Information System (VIS) or Frontex). For further strengthening of the external borders, there have been several newly established or refurbished agencies and units devised to ensure that the European Union, as well as its member states, will react properly to any security threats.


[EBCG’s right to intervene] it still strictly limited to predefined conditions.


The EU Commission made a proposal to establish the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which would supervise the aforementioned units. The European Parliament and Council approved this proposal within a record time of nine months. The new European border guards became a reality on 6 October 2016. Main tasks of the European Border and Coast Guards are to ensure standards for management of the external borders. They will be strictly and constantly monitoring and analysing the situation to identify and address weak spots and gaps. These guards will be able to process the personal data of individuals suspected of involvement in criminal activities, such as smuggling, terrorism or trafficking as well as the personal data of illegal migrants. Moreover, EBCG will be monitoring and ensuring the respect for fundamental rights in all its activities. They will be also responsible for the organisation and management of joint operations and rapid interventions in those states which will be under pressure or which will not be able to handle the situation on their part of the external border. This new right of intervention is an important new addition to the agency, however, it still strictly limited to predefined conditions.

Checks at the external borders remain one of the main safeguards of the Schengen area and their proper conduct remains necessary for the continued maintenance of the borderless Europe. However, these threats in terms of terrorism can occur also from an EU citizen (enjoying the free movement across the EU). To enhance the cooperation between national security authorities in this area, Europol has taken some major steps forward, which includes the creation of the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC), the European Migrant Smuggling Centre and the European Cybercrime Centre. The Commission will be working with Europol to further strengthen the agency’s counter-terrorism capabilities as well as its activities against illegal migration. Moreover, the improvement of Europol’s access to key databases still remains the top priority. Furthermore, the Commission encourages member states to develop some form of information exchange platform, where authorities might share information related to terrorism.

New systems in place

The new measure called Entry and Exit System (EES), approved by the European Parliament on 25 October, is based on mandatory checks of all third country nationals as well as of EU citizens entering and exiting the European Union. The system will collect data (identity, travel document and biometrics) and register the entry and exit records at the point of crossing. This should substitute the “old-school” stamping of passports and should improve the efficiency and the quality of border controls in an attempt to curtail the number of foreign fighters as well as smugglers.

Another newly established system is called ETIAS (Establishment of European travel information and authorization system) and provides an additional layer of control over visa-exempt travellers. ETIAS is devised to determine the eligibility of all visa-exempt third country nationals to travel to the Schengen Area and analyse whether the traveller represents a security or migration risk. Information on the travellers would be gathered prior to their trip.


Effective and timely information-sharing among relevant authorities is a prerequisite for successful counter-terrorism action


It is important to realize that the strength of the external border is a precondition for free movement within the Schengen area. Every year, almost 400 million EU citizens and 200 million non-EU citizens cross the Schengen border.

Net migration to EU28 (dark blue)

In terms of the terrorist threat faced today, the efficiency of security checks is highly dependent on the exchange of information not only between the law enforcement authorities but also intelligence services. Effective and timely information-sharing among relevant authorities is a prerequisite for successful counter-terrorism action. To enhance such cooperation, proper function of SIS II (Schengen Information System) and VIS (Visa Information System) is necessary.

The strengthening and even re-closing of the internal borders and further reinforcement of the external borders should be perceived as necessary and justified decisions. Without these activities and the willingness for broader cooperation between member states, the authorities would not be able to detect the suspicious movement of people or materials which could be in turn used for illegal activities and present a threat to public health, security or policy of the EU.

The strengthening of the European agencies such as the European Border and Coast Guards or Europol is a crucial step for the security of the European Union and its citizens.

The complete version of the original article can be found at the website of the Center of Security Analysis and Prevention.

About author: Tereza Novotná (CSAP)


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