Wednesday

26th Apr 2017

Investigation

Frontex chief looks beyond EU borders

  • Satellite image of Libya - Frontex wants to look beyond EU borders to spot migrants (Photo: nasa.org)

Frontex, the pan-European border agency based in Warsaw, is mandated to co-ordinate member state border police patrols on Europe's external frontiers.

But its executive director, Ilkka Laitinen, told EUobserver the agency is looking to expand its surveillance operations beyond the EU to develop a so-called "common pre-frontier intelligence picture [CPIP]."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"This is where Frontex is due to arrange the delivery and the production of additional surveillance data from an area that is beyond the border, typically we are talking about international borders or some further areas," said Laitinen.

He noted that traditional surveillance methods rely on patrols and manned aircraft.

Much more cost-effective, he said, are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which could be deployed at sea to locate, for instance, migrants in distress.

"There are many legal questions to be solved. But technologically speaking, it [UAVs] seems to be a reliable and cost-effective means for surveillance," he explained.

Laitinen said the data gathered for the CPIPs could come from a variety of sources, including "traditional means ... or by some UAVs or satellite images and so on."

Part of Frontex' job is to help steer the research and development of surveillance technologies by working with industry consortiums in areas such as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).

The RPAS sector is currently dominated by US and Israeli aeronautics industries.

The European Commission said in a recent working document that EU companies are lagging behind in a market that could generate billions in profits.

Around 400 RPAS are currently under development in 19 member states.

"Our experience with the co-operation with industry is very positive - they have a lot of good ideas and they brought many new innovations. They innovate to a certain extent. They have been able to make border guards think [about] things in a new way," Laitinen told this website.

Large firms in the EU aviation market, such as Dassault, Thales and BAE Systems, complain that member states' strict and fragmented laws on unmanned aircraft are hamper development.

They say that RPAS, which can serve dual military and civilian purposes, could generate €4.6 billion in profits annually.

One contact at Thales said some may attempt to circumvent restrictions by placing a person in the remotely operated vehicle.

"He would be there for safety purposes," he said.

Other companies, such as Swedish aviation firm Saab, which hosted a seminar on external borders in Brussels in November, is also involved in developing coastal and land border security equipment.

Its portfolio includes watchtowers, UAVs, early warning control systems and naval and ground-based radars.

The company showcased its Saab 340 maritime security aircraft, which comes equipped with a high-resolution TV-camera and electro-optical sensors capable of detecting debris or people at sea.

Among the speakers at the Saab event was Erik Berglund, who heads capacity building at Frontex.

He noted that the EU agency is launching a pilot project, along with the European Union Satellite Centre, to use satellite-based information on "areas that are a bit far away from European borders."

The CPIPs, he said, could include surveillance data collected as far away as Libya, Syria or Mali.

He also said Frontex might in future acquire its "own" resources.

"This does not mean we will start buying our own ships. This means more that we will buy services, for example, air-borne and maritime surveillance deployed to the Mediterranean to reinforce member states under pressure, like when we had this Arab spring," he noted.

Libya: hounding of migrants must stop

Sub-Saharan migrants in Libya face appalling treatment. But despite its fine words, the EU's sole concern is to keep them out of Europe.

About Nikolaj Nielsen

Nikolaj Nielsen is a Danish-American journalist working for EUobserver in Brussels. He won a King Baudouin Foundation grant for investigative journalism in 2010.

Fortress Europe

EUobserver's Nikolaj Nielsen visited the Greek-Turkish border in November to see what 'Fortress Europe' means in practice for refugees and people smugglers trying to get into the Union.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament moves to lift Le Pen's immunity
  2. EU Commission launches probe into Hungary's university law
  3. Scots slowly losing appetite for independence - poll
  4. Council of Europe puts Turkey on watch list
  5. EU to put parental leave on political agenda
  6. Israel cancels German meeting over human rights groups
  7. Hungary's Orban will participate in EU parliament debate
  8. Malta floats cash-for-refugees plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  3. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  6. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  7. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  8. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  10. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  11. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  12. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children

Latest News

  1. Power struggle in Greenland: Three reasons why the EU should care
  2. Nordic and Baltic countries step up digitalisation efforts
  3. European states still top media freedom list
  4. Let’s not put European public health at risk
  5. Threatened Budapest university calls for EU support
  6. Orban set to face down EU threats
  7. Dont expect 'quick fix' in Syria, China tells EU
  8. Russische schwarze Kassen bedrohen EU Demokratie