Plans to create a vast new security database for Europe's border-free zone, the Schengen, have run into major technical, financial and legal problems.
The Schengen system has made crossing borders within the EU a breeze
The European Union's plan for a new database to monitor the fingerprints and photographs of people entering the bloc is so far behind schedule that a crisis is looming, EU interior ministers meeting in Prague on Thursday said.
"It's obvious that we cannot fulfil the schedule on the Schengen Information System II (SIS II), we couldn't start the global testing... It's one of the most important problems, one of the biggest issues and projects in the field of security," Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer, who hosted the meeting, said.
The Schengen system is one of the EU's cornerstone projects, abolishing border controls between all the bloc's member states except Britain, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus.
When the system was created in 1995, Schengen member states exchanged basic information, such as passport numbers, on travelers entering their territory from outside the Schengen zone via the computerized Schengen Information System (SIS).
A new SIS
The system is named after the village of Schengen, Luxembourg
When the EU expanded to take in 10 new states, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe, in 2004, Schengen members decided to create a new SIS which would both accommodate the new members and allow them to exchange not just passport numbers, but fingerprints and photos.
But the new system, SIS II, experienced huge technical problems, with computers in the member states unable to communicate with the EU's centralized database.
The problems lasted so long that the EU, losing patience, invited the new member states into the Schengen zone under the old technical system in December 2007 -- re-naming the system SISone4ALL.
Officials on Thursday insisted that it was still not too late to bring SIS II into effect.
"It's true that there is a bit of a delay, but we'll fix a calendar, and we'll stick to it," EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot said.
But Langer said that the problem had reached "crisis" proportions, and offered to oversee a rescue plan personally.