European passport

The idea of a European passport was first discussed at the Parissummit of EC heads of government in December 1974. The Council of Ministers adopted two non-binding resolutions in June 1981 and June 1982 to settle the details, and the passport was gradually introduced by member states from January 1985. (In the United Kingdom, it entered into circulation in 1988). The long period of gestation was caused by disagreements between governments over the colour and format of the new document, and the wish on the part of some states to introduce machine-readable pages, which in turn prompted arguments over what data should be included.

The European passport is in fact not a ‘European’ passport at all, but a national passport produced in a uniform format agreed among member states. Smaller than the old blue British passport, with a semi-soft, ‘Burgundy’ red cover, it bears the words ‘European Union’ in the appropriate language, the name of the country of issue, and a national crest or symbol of that country. The page containing personal data may appear at either the front or back of the passport. The individual mem­ber states remain the issuing authorities.

The European passport is intended to have both symbolic and practical value. Its standard format is meant to reinforce the notion of common European citizenship, as well as to ensure that all citizens can instantly be recognised as such at theUnion’s frontiers and receive equal treatment at the hands of national authorities.

In October 2000, the member states adopted a resolution on certain minimum security standards for passports. In December 2004, these were upgraded by a Council regulation requiring countries within the Schengen area to ensure that all new passports issued contain biometric facial images and fingerprints. This was the first piece of EU legislation to be adopted on passports. It caused controversy because uniquely it allows for certain implementing measures adopted under comitology – in respect of additional security features and the technical standards for the biometrics – to be decided in secret, with their content accessible only to the European Commission and the member-state governments.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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