Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fourteenth Report

6 Minimum standards for security features and biometrics in EU passports



COM(04) 116

Draft Council Regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in EU citizens' passports

Legal baseArticle 62(2)(a) EC; consultation; unanimity
Document originated18 February 2004
Deposited in Parliament25 February 2004
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 9 March 2004
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentLegally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


6.1 In December 2003, the European Council invited the Commission to make a proposal for the introduction of biometric identifiers in passports.[12]

6.2 By 26 October 2004, countries which wish to continue to obtain the benefit of a waiver of the requirement for a visa to enter the United States must have a programme to issue their nationals with machine-readable passports that are tamper-resistant and incorporate biometric identifiers which comply with the biometric identifier standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

6.3 Article 62(2)(a) of the EC Treaty requires the Council to adopt:

"measures on the crossing of the external borders of the Member States, which shall establish standards and procedures to be followed by Member States in carrying out checks on persons at such borders."

6.4 A Protocol to the EC Treaty provides that the UK is not to take part in the adoption of, or be bound by, any measure made under Title IV of the Treaty (visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to the free movement of persons) unless the UK gives notice that it wishes to "opt into" the measure. Article 62 is part of Title IV.

The document

6.5 The draft Regulation has two main purposes: first, to make EU citizens' passports more secure by establishing minimum standards for security features; second, to establish a reliable link between a passport and its genuine holder by incorporating biometric identifiers. The Commission says that the objective of the proposal is to combat the use of false travel documents.

6.6 Passports are checked mainly when the EU's external borders are being crossed. This measure is concerned with "the standards and procedures to be followed by Member States in carrying out checks at the external borders". In the Commission's view, therefore, Article 62(2)(a) of the EC Treaty is the appropriate base for the Regulation.

6.7 The main provisions of the draft Regulation are:

  • Passports issued by Member States must comply with minimum security standards on, for example, the type of paper to be used, printing and issuing techniques, and protection against copying. Technical specifications will be defined by a committee of experts; the specifications will be secret and made available only to the body named by each Member State.
  • The passport must include a facial image and, if a Member State wishes it, may include fingerprints.
  • The Regulation applies to ordinary and official passports, short-term passports and travel documents issued in place of a passport.
  • Member States must apply the Regulation within one year of the adoption of the technical specifications.

The Government's view

6.8 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Caroline Flint) tells us that it is the Government's provisional view that Article 62(2)(a) is not an appropriate legal base for the measure, but she does not say why. The Minister says that it makes sense for the ICAO standards for biometric identifiers to be used for passports issued by Member States; they will then be machine readable and operable outside, as well as inside, the EU. Setting minimum standards for security features could reduce the scope for forgery. Passports issued by the UK meet current ICAO recommended standards and the UK already has a programme to include a single facial biometric in passports.

6.9 The Government has not yet decided whether to opt into the Regulation.


6.10 We should be grateful to know the reasons for the Government's doubts about the appropriateness of the proposed legal base. We shall hold the document under scrutiny pending the Minister's answer and until the Government has decided whether to opt into the Regulation.

12   Conclusion 21 of the Brussels European Council of 12/13 December 2003. Back

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