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25th Oct 2021

EU plans fully-fledged external border force

  • Frontex's search and rescue operation on the Mediterranean Sea (Photo: Frontex)

The European Union is considering a plan to introduce a permanent external border control force that could be deployed if it deems that a member state is in need of help to police its frontiers even without the EU country’s consent, the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal reported Friday (11 December).

The migration crisis has exposed the bloc’s leaky external border control, and the Paris attacks, where two suspects entered the EU posing as refugees, added to the anxieties about external border checks.

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There have been repeated calls by EU leaders to step up efforts to police external borders as almost a million people looking for refuge enter the bloc, according to figures by the UN’s refugee agency.

However, handing over a core sovereign power from member states to the EU, with the commission, the bloc’s executive, deciding to deploy the new border force, might be a tough sell.

It will have to be agreed by the EU member states, and in the process the proposal might be watered down.

Just last week Greece accepted the EU’s help in foreign border guards patrolling the Aegean islands, but only after much foot-dragging, and following threats that they might be pushed out of the Schengen passport-free zone.

The EU Commission is to set out the proposal, pushed by Germany and France next week (15 December), ahead of the meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.

Frontex, the EU’s current border control agency based in Warsaw, can only co-ordinate border protection, not enforce it. The proposed beefed-up border force would have its own border guards and equipment, and would not need to rely on member states’ contributions.

The new force would be a permanent border and coast guard with a pool of 2,000 staff that could be deployed within days.

It would not need an invitation from the member state it is set to be deployed to, ultimately the EU Commission would decide on their mobilisation after consulting member states.

The new border guard force would operate in countries that are part of the border-free travel zone, Schengen. It includes non-EU Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, but does not include the UK and Ireland.

Weak external border controls have prompted questions about the Schengen area’s viability, a prized achievement of the bloc, as migrants and refugees manage to travel freely once they enter the EU.

Some have argued that only a commonly managed external border control system can save the Schengen passport-free travel zone.

Brussels to tighten EU external borders

The European Commission is working on a new set of measures aimed at strengthening the EU's external borders, including a system that would track all non-EU nationals entering and leaving the bloc. It is also looking into a "constant surveillance" system for Europe's land and sea borders.

EU border control plan faces resistance

Ministers agree need to better protect external border, but Hungary and Poland critical of plans for EU border force with "right to intervene" even if states don't want it.

New EU border force: 'right to intervene'

New EU border force, to be proposed Tuesday, would have “right to intervene” if member states fail to protect external boundaries, a draft text, seen by EUobserver, says.

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