In 2015 the European Union experienced a flow of illegal migrants and refugees on an unprecedented scale, which was not seen before in the entire history of the EU and resulted in a political crisis threatening the future of the whole Schengen area. In result, major European institutions and particular EU member states, especially those, which were the most affected by the migrant crisis, recognised the need for working out and implementing a number of new regulations, which would enhance their ability to protect EU’s external borders and fight all current and emerging types of cross-border crime.
In result, last year the European Parliament and Council passed a new regulation which gave the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the sole EU-level institution tasked with and capable of protecting European external borders, a new toolset to meet the rising challenges and combat emerging threats to the EU’s internal security, such as illegal migration, weapon’s smuggling or slave and child trafficking.
The new regulation gives Frontex better means to provide effective assistance to EU member states and Schengen associated countries and certain EU institutions, to increase Europe’s internal security and prosperity and to improve the way the EU’s external borders are managed and protected, thus ensuring a high level of security for all its citizens.
The new regulation identifies the need and lays the ground for the creation of the Europe’s first uniformed service, the future European Border and Coast Guard standing corps. Following its creation, the corps will provide Frontex with a 10,000-strong force composed of border and coast guard officers, who will assist national authorities with border control and migration management.
‘With our own standing corps and own equipment, Frontex will be a daily partner for national authorities to design sustainable border management capacities rather than simply responding in a crisis management mode. Our operational aim is to have well-functioning external borders, ensuring trust in our European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice’, said Fabrice Leggeri, Frontex Executive Director.
To Respond in a Timely Manner
Under the new regulation, Frontex will put more pressure on strengthening Europe’s ability to respond to any kind of challenges or threats at its border, whether its illegal migration, drug trafficking of smuggling of weapons, by sharing relevant information and gathered intelligence within particular EU member states, as well as other pan-European security institutions. The Agency will also conduct more frequent and in-depth risk analyses, which will focus on detecting weak spots in EU`s border protection system and finding ways to eliminate them, as well as predicting the challenges which lay ahead of Europe’s external border protection policies for years to come.
The reason why the system of exchange of information and intelligence between Frontex and certain EU member states needs to be improved is the need to enhance the capacity of the Agency and its national partners to respond rapidly to any type and form of emerging threat. This includes those challenges that already pose a real risk to the EU’s internal security and others that may arise in the near future.
One of the ways to achieve this objective is to maintain the current capacity for border control and migration management thanks to constant, 24-hour monitoring of the situation at the EU’s external land and sea borders, as well as to monitor the situation in non-EU countries, such as in the Western Balkans region.
Analyse, Advise, Implement
Furthermore, Frontex intends to improve its capacity to carry out annual or multi-annual risk assessments of the EU’s ability to meet a wide range of external border or internal security challenges. As a result, the agency will be able to advise certain member states and partner institutions more effectively on how to protect the Schengen area from uncontrolled migration flows and refugees who, if not properly controlled, could pose a threat to the security of EU citizens.
Frontex will also seek to advise EU member states on procurement and installation of technical equipment, which will enhance their abilities to protect the Schengen area from illegal incursions and to tighten control on the EU’s external borders. According to the Agency, the main focus will be on procurement of new patrol vehicles and vessels, as well as helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles or other types of observation systems, which will be deployed all across the border and, on particular occasions, within non-EU member nations.
More Human and Technical Assistance
The new resolution will give Frontex more capabilities as well as human and technical resources to provide the EU and Schengen area member states with a wide range of operational services, which will enhance the effectiveness of border surveillance and border control. The Agency will also seek to improve its abilities to detect and control the flow of migrants and refugees in Europe, which will be achieved by better and more in-depth background checks, including determination of migrants’ countries of origin, their age or the real reason for which they decided to cross the EU’s external borders, often illegally.
Furthermore, the Agency will also continue to strengthen the role, which it plays in foreseeing, detecting and fighting all other types of cross-border crime, such as weapons trafficking or smuggling of minors or slaves. In this regard, Frontex identifies the urgent need for reinforcement of cooperation between all EU member states. This relates not only to those countries, which share their part of the EU’s external border, but also the ones deep within the Schengen area, like France, Germany or the Netherlands, which very often are the final destination of smugglers and traffickers.
Legitimate Travelling Requires Improved Control
Looking into the future, Frontex will also play a bigger role in helping to maintain control over and management of ever growing flow of legitimate travellers all across the EU’s external borders. This includes not only land border crossing and seaports, but also international airports, which also constitute particular sectors of the Schengen area.
To make this possible, the Agency will host the central unit of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). It will also assist certain EU member states in the implementation of the entry/exit system. The system will make it possible to monitor whether a third-country national has left the EU in accordance with the time constraints of his/her visa, in particular when he/she enters and leaves the EU at two different border crossings, seaports or airports. A similar system has already been introduced in a number of countries outside Europe, such as the USA.
Active rather than Reactive
The new regulation also foresees that the Agency must improve its readiness to face and tackle the challenges facing the EU external border management system before, or at least at the time of, the emergence of the crisis, not afterwards. In other words, Frontex will have to act more actively rather than reactively when the threat to the EU’s internal security is imminent and its institutions can only try to limit the extent of its negative consequences.
In this respect, Frontex will need to strengthen its capacity to monitor the situation at the EU’s external border by cooperating more closely with certain EU member states, and to monitor the security situation in selected EU partner countries and in regions of particular interest, such as the Western Balkans. Improving the exchange of data and information by sending more border guards and liaison officers to these countries could help the Agency and the EU to identify the growing threat more promptly and to better prepare appropriate response options.
More inter-EU Cooperation
In order to improve the management of the EU’s external borders, Frontex will seek to strengthen pan-European cooperation between certain member states and EU institutions. In this context, the agency will act as guardian of the integrated management of Europe’s borders. Frontex will therefore lead to further harmonisation of the rules and standards applied by interested parties in order to better manage external borders and address a wide range of challenges, including migration and security threats.
In cooperation with national authorities and selected EU institutions, international agencies and organisations, Frontex will seek to implement an effective, integrated strategy to better manage the movement of people, including legal visitors, across the EU’s external borders in order to monitor and control this process. As a result, the agency and its national and international partners will be better able to distinguish between legal visitors entering the Schengen area and migrants or refugees, in particular those wishing to cross the EU’s borders illegally, unchecked and uncontrolled.
Frontex will have to develop an integrated strategy to improve capabilities, contingency planning and maintaining operational readiness across the EU’s external borders as well as within the member states and the organisation responsible for protecting the Schengen area from illegal border crossings. In addition, the Agency will assist all member states , albeit in an appropriate manner, in the preparation of a national capability development plan, which could relate to the employment of more border guards and the improvement of their qualifications or the acquisition of additional technical equipment such as patrol boats, cars, helicopters or aircraft.
Formation of Standing Corps
As a consequence of the above-mentioned migration crises of 2011 and 2015, which had far-reaching consequences for the internal security and policies of the EU, the European nations understood the need to create an independent, solely managed force responsible for the protection of the EU’s external borders and guaranteeing a prosperous future for the Schengen area.
Shortly after, EU member states and institutions took a decision to reform Frontex by giving it a stronger mandate and more adequate resources in order to improve its border protection and control capabilities and creation of a European Border and Coast Guard standing corps.
The EU Parliament and Council state that the new standing corps will “gradually but swiftly reach the strategic target of having a capacity of 10,000 operational staff”, out of which 3,000 will be recruited directly by Frontex among border guard, police and customs professionals from particular EU member states. Further 1,500 border guard officers will be provided by EU countries on a two-to-four-year basis. The rest will be deployed on a short term secondment.
According to the EU legislation, “such a capacity (…) represents the maximum available capacity required to effectively address existing and future operational needs for border and return operations in the Union and third countries, including a rapid reaction capacity to face future crises”.
The Frontex standing corps will have select executive powers, which will allow it to effectively support particular member states in their efforts to protect EU external borders from illegal migration and other types of cross-border crimes, as well as to provide security of the Schengen area. Additionally, the Agency, by the use of its particular assets, such as the standing corps, will further assist particular EU member states in organising effective system of returns of irregular migrants to their countries of origin.
The new regulation sets up a strict timeline for the creation of the new standing corps. The institution is expected to reach the final operational capability status by 2027, with the ability to deploy a declared 10 000 men and women strong force of border guards, ready to rapidly react to any emerging or foreseen threats or emergency situations.
However, before the first members of the Frontex standing corps could start their work, they will have to undergo a training course and a range of tests, confirming their professionalism, skills and psychological features, enabling them to provide the required level of security to European external borders, in compliance with EU law and standards.
The recruitment of the first batch of 700 officers has already started. So far, the Agency received around 7 500 applications. Most of the candidates come from the border guard, customs and police institutions from all of EU member states. According to the current timeline, the first Frontex border guards should be ready to enter service and take on their duties in January 2021.
Frontex border guards, who at any given time will work under the command and auspices of the national authorities of the country, in which they are deployed, will be responsible for supporting the EU, the Agency and partner nations in a number of tasks, such as: control and monitoring of land, sea and air borders, border surveillance, collecting and sharing of relevant data and intelligence, search and rescue of migrants and other persons in distress, return flights of migrants and refugees, who were declined a right to stay in the UE or independently decided to return to their countries of origin, as well as fighting cross-border crime, like weapons smuggling or slave trafficking. These tasks will be performed either within the Schengen area, especially along EU external borders, as well as in non-EU countries, assuming they sign a special Status Agreement with the EU.
Michał Jarocki is an independent, Warsaw-based defence expert who has reported on security issues and developments from a qualified “insider” position for many years.