Monday

28th May 2018

European Commission wants 10,000 border guards

  • Frontex had 300 border guards in 2015. Under EU Commission plans, that could increase to 10,000 in less than ten years (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Some six years after Greece erected a 10km barb wired border fence along a stretch of the Evros river it shares with Turkey, the European Commission has announced plans to create a standing corps of 10,000 border guards.

On Wednesday (2 May), the EU executive proposed the idea as part of its aim to overhaul the EU budget for the years 2021-27.

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  • The Evros River divides Greece and Turkey (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The proposal reflects political priorities that were absent in 2012 when thousands of people had been crossing into Greece, some drowning in the Evros river, while others were lost in the tall reeds and marsh that span parts of the nature reserve and bird sanctuary.

Frontex, the EU border agency in Warsaw, had dispatched its very first rapid border deployment in an effort to stem the flows. Over time, fewer people opted for the land route, instead turning their sights onto the overcrowded Greek islands.

Earlier this year, in February, Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri then announced the crossings from Turkey to Greece had dropped by 80 percent when compared to 2017.

"This eastern Mediterranean border is under control but of course there is still pressure," he had said.

Such discussions and fears are part of a broader trend throughout much of the EU when it comes to migration, border management, and security.

The Warsaw-based agency, also known as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has since its first rapid deployment in the Evros region seen its budget balloon. It also now has a border force of some 1,500 guards on loan from EU states at its disposal, up from around 300 in 2015.

European border guard force

But its evolution is set to go even further. The European Commission now wants the standing corps of 10,000 border guards up and running by 2027.

Details are sparse and won't be revealed until mid next month. But clues in the terminology 'standing corps' would suggest that the plan is to create European border guard force within Frontex.

Gunther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for budget, told MEPs in Brussels that the proposal for 10,000 people is "a very clear signal of the power of the EU to act."

"Greece, Bulgaria, Malta, Cyprus, Poland, a number of countries are being challenged, even over burdened by migration in these countries but it is an issue for the whole of the EU," he said.

Manfred Weber, a German who leads the centre-right EPP political group in the parliament, made similar comments.

Those comments come on the heels of a massive European Union budget overhaul, proposed by Oettinger on Wednesday, which aims to pour large amounts of the EU purse into border management and migration.

It means boosting the overall EU budget on external borders, migration and refugee flows from the current €13 billion to over €34 billion for the period 2021 to 2027.

Frontex is set to receive, should the plan go through, the biggest spending increase when compared to all the other big policies under the same budget line.

It currently gets around €300 million per year. Around half of that goes into operational costs. The Oettinger plan would see its budget increase substantially.

"The question is are we going to be doing things the old way or we are already moving into doing things in the new way," said Frontex spokeswoman Ewa Moncure.

She told this website on Wednesday that the plan to create a standing corps of 10,000 guards is reflection of political priorities.

"The money is being put where everybody says the important things are but in terms of what it means on the ground next week, I think it is a bit too early," she said.

She noted that Frontex is also now testing new ways to keep an EU state naval boat on lease for a much longer period of time and with crews made up of different nationalities.

Current rules restrict Frontex from deploying the boats outside the specific agreements and operations. They want that changed so they can use the boat for whatever operation and whereever they deem necessary at a moment's notice.

"There are a lot of things happening and it is only 2018," she said.

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Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

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