The “Entry/Exit System” (EES) is supposed to create the largest European biometric database. Atos, among others, is held responsible for the now three-year postponement of the system. Two former leaders of the group now hold senior posts in Brussels, including to implement the now-delayed system.
The launch of the new European “Entry/Exit System” (EES) will be delayed yet again. This is what the director of the Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems (eu-LISA) told EU interior ministers at their recent Council meeting, according to netzpolitik.org. The Tallinn-based agency is responsible for hosting and operating the EES.
This is the fourth postponement of the EES, which was originally scheduled to start in 2021. The new date for the deployment of the central system is early summer 2024, but until then, individual member states still need to set up, test and launch their national systems.
Largest European biometric database
In the EES, the border authorities of the EU member states store fingerprints and facial images of all travellers to the European Union. The data is compared with relevant information systems of police and border authorities in search of possible alerts for wanted persons or other anomalies. Then the datasets are stored for three years. With several hundred million entries, the EES is to become the largest European biometric database.
Contrary to a request by EU interior ministers last March, eu-LISA has still not presented an exact timetable for the launch of the EES. If it is delayed again, this fifth postponement could even be much longer: The government in Paris insists that the system will not launch during the Olympic Games, which will be held in France in the summer of 2024. With the processing of biometric data, waiting times for those entering the country will increase significantly, even threefold, according to a German estimate. This would cause major problems at the French airports when processing visitors to the Olympics.
The delayed commissioning of the EES will have consequences for the introduction of the linked travel information system ETIAS. All travellers from non-EU countries who do not need a visa for the EU are to use it to register their stay in advance. The EES is also to become a central component of the “Interoperability Project”, which is also making slow progress and in which the EU wants to bring together all existing biometric systems.
Companies to blame for the delay
Eu-LISA blames the delay of the EES on the companies responsible for setting it up. The €142 million tender was won in 2019 by Atos with a consortium of IBM and Leonardo. According to eu-LISA, the cost of the contract has already increased by around 30 million euros. However, Atos & Co do not want to take responsibility for the now three-year postponement, and financial compensation has also been ruled out so far. So far, eu-LISA has not officially demanded this either.
The reluctance might be due to eu-LISA’s new director. In January, the agency’s board of directors appointed Agnès Diallo for this post. Diallo had previously worked as a consultant in various IT groups and also held a number of management positions at Atos, eu-LISA writes in a press release. Among other things, she was responsible for “improving sales processes” in the executive board. In the process, Diallo also worked with eu-LISA, the agency confirms.
Ten internal lobbyists in Brussels
Atos has been awarded major contracts to set up large databases by the EU for more than two decades. In the 1990s, the group was responsible for the development of the Schengen Information System (SIS), together with other companies also for an upgrade to SIS II. It went into operation in 2014 and was thus delayed by a total of seven years. Atos took on further work for the Visa Information System (VIS). The company is also involved in the “Interoperability Project” as part of a consortium, receiving €442 million for the project.
The numerous EU contracts awarded to Atos may also be due to the company’s lobbying, which regularly participates in meetings with the Commission and is said to employ ten internal lobbyists in Brussels. In fact, these business contacts are likely to have improved significantly in 2019: In that year, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had appointed the then Atos CEO Thierry Breton as Commissioner for Industry and Internal Market.
Image: Entry-Exit System pilot project at land borders (Frontex).