Air Borders Control

Seminar, Nordica hotel, Reykjavík, 13 November 2003 





I welcome you all to Reykjavík.  We are pleased that so many of you have come to take part in this seminar on New Trends and Developments in Air borders Control.


Our seminar is organized within the framework of  the Schengen cooperation, but it was here in Reykjavík, eight years ago, that the leaders of the five Nordic states decided to apply jointly for participation in Schengen, at that time an independent cooperation of several European states.  For decades the Nordic nations had been a pass-free zone and the decision to continue our cooperation without border controls was an obvious choice   although Norway and Iceland remained outside the European Union.


There are now almost three years since Iceland along with the other Nordic states became an operational  Schengen state. We have been active participants since then and have managed to fulfill our obligations. We are especially proud of the FACE recognition system at Keflavík Airport, which you will have an opportunity to observe in connection with the seminar.


As far as Iceland is concerned we are not dealing with land borders here in the middle of the North Atlantic.  Distances have made our coastline a somewhat insignificant problem as far as border controls are concerned. This may however change in the future with increased illegal maritime activity.  But the air borders are in effect the frontier that we take care of on a daily basis and the exercise of seperating the internal Schengen traffic from the external traffic was not an easy one.  The terminal building at Keflavík International Airport  had to be extended and we installed a checking system which could process passengers of several large passenger jets during a relatively short time-span every morning and afternoon.


In the short time that we have been co-operating within our European framework , the legal and operational demands have changed immensely.  A few points might be highlighted in this respect.


Firstly, the Schengen co-operation has been taken over by the European Union and is now an integral part of its Justice and Home affairs activities with special arrangements for the participation of Iceland and Norway.  That sector is without doubt one of the most dynamic ones in the EU at present.

New proposals for increased co-operation in the field of border controls are by no means a simple updating of rules in the Common handbook as some of us might have expected. We have on the contrary witnessed a trend taking our co-operation down to a much more practical level and into new directions.  As an example of the speed of change, I can mention that when we started to organise this seminar a few months ago, Centres for risk analysis and for different types of borders control were highest on the agenda. Now we will hear of a new proposal made public last Tuesday to transfer some of the tasks to a new EU-institution, - the European Border Control Agency.


Secondly, new technologies have opened possibilities to perform checks on persons. We can now focus our efforts better in order to concentrate on those persons who are most likely to be attempting to enter illegally across our borders.


Thirdly, new demands for security in its broadest sense have been raised after the events of September 11,  two years ago. This has had a major effect on all controls, especially the ones that have to do with international air travel. We would not be discussing some of the items on our agenda , if it were not for the change in climate that were brought about by those tragic events.


The aim of this seminar is to take stock of all those changes. We are most grateful for the excellent speakers we have got from Finland, Italy, Germany, the United States, the European Commission and IATA.  New ideas will be introduced and we will learn about changes being implemented into air border control in North America, Europe and other parts of the world.


Taking note of the speakers and the participants , I am convinced this Seminar will prove to be a useful opportunity for all who are interested in learning about the most recent measures being introduced in the field of air border control.


I wish you all a pleasant stay in Iceland and would now like to hand the Chair over to Mr. Charles Elsen.


Mr. Elsen is the Director General of the Justice and Home Affairs sector of the Council of the European Union. He is therefore the EU official who has to live with and solve all the difficult complications arising from having non-EU states involved in important parts of his subject matter.


We have had excellent cooperation with Mr. Elsen  ever since we became a member of the Mixed Committee dealing with Schengen relevant matters  and I would like to use this opportunity to thank him for that co-ooperation and his important contribution to our work.


Mr. Elsen, you have the floor.