Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

New EU border force: 'right to intervene'

  • Greek border: Over 700,000 people walked through Greece so far this year (Photo: euoparl.europa.eu)

A new EU border control force, to be proposed next week by the European Commission, would have the “right to intervene” if member states fail to protect the bloc’s external boundary.

The draft proposal, seen by EUobserver, is to create a European Border and Coast Guard Agency, replacing Frontex, the EU’s current border control institute.

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  • Frontex already works with Greek border guards on small scale (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

It could be posted to EU states in emergencies, where deficiencies persist in control of borders, and where national action is lacking.

“The commission will be able to adopt an implementing decision determining that the situation at a particular section of the external borders requires urgent action and entrusting the agency with the task of carrying out appropriate operational measures,” the proposal says.

“This will allow the agency to intervene immediately in crisis situations by deploying European Border and Coast Guard Teams at the external border.”

It adds: “In urgent situations, the agency must be able to step in to ensure that action is taken on the ground even where there is no request for assistance from the member state concerned or where that member state considers that there is no need for additional intervention.”

Under the protocol, the commission proposes deploying the EU border force to a given member state or states.

If the member state rejects the EU intervention, it must rally a “reverse qualified majority” in the EU Council, amounting to three quarters of votes, to veto deployment.

The new force would have a pool of at least 1,500 guards ready to go at three days’ notice.

The new agency is to cost €280 million a year - double Frontex’ current budget. It would have 1,000 normal staff, up from around 400 at Frontex.

It would have the right to work with non-EU countries, especially in the Western Balkans, the refugees’ main transit route to the EU.

It would also help with returns, sending people home if their asylum claim is rejected.

The text says the EU should create “a new European travel document,” to be assigned to returnees who don’t have passports. It says individual EU states already issue “substitute documents,” but “recognition” of the documents by non-EU countries is “unastsifactory.”

Schengen at risk

The full proposal is to be unveiled on Tuesday (15 December) in Strasbourg, where MEPs will debate the initiative.

The 10-page draft text says the refugee crisis has exposed the weaknesses of the current external border control system. It says there’s a need for uniform standards and for quick intervention in times of crisis.

“It has become increasingly clear that the challenges these movements represent cannot be adequately dealt with by individual member states acting in an uncoordinated manner,” it notes.

The proposal says the EU’s passport-free travel zone, the Schengen area, a jewel of EU integration, can only be maintained “if its external borders are effectively secured and protected.”

Political context

It notes the general public has lost confidence in the EU’s ability to manage the situation, a feeling which is being exploited by populist politicians.

It adds: “Security concerns following the terrorist attacks of this year, and the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, have only added to citizens' concerns.”

The proposal comes after more than 700,000 people walked through Greece in the first 11 months of the year, the vast majority of them unregistered.

The total number of “illegal” crossings of EU borders between January and November 2015 is said to be “almost 1.5 million.”

EU leaders have warned that if Schengen falls, the single market, and the euro could also be at risk, after Austria, Germany, and Sweden, among others, temporarily reimposed Schengen checks.

The last time the EU used a Council vote to impose migration policy, in September, on relocation quotas, it prompted an outcry on national sovereignty by the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.

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