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23rd Mar 2019

MEPs fast-track EU border guard plan

  • Frontex guards on the Greek border. The European border guard will have twice the resources of Frontex. (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

EU institutions are fast-tracking plans to establish a European border and coast guard (EBCG) agency.

Members of the European Parliament’s committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs (Libe) on Monday (30 May) endorsed a report on the proposal.

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They also gave Artis Pabriks, a centre-right Latvian lawmaker, the mandate to start negotiations with EU member states without the need for passing through a plenary vote for approval.

The guard is bound to be operational after the summer.

The legislative process has been fast by EU standards. The commission presented its proposal in December 2015. EU ministers rubber-stamped it in April.

Pabriks also met with council and commission representatives on Tuesday morning (31 May) to get negotiations under way.

The EP negotiator is confident that negotiations will be swift.

”There is no member state that isn’t interested in having more advanced and better management of the EU outside borders,” Pabriks told journalists on Tuesday.

The proposal would give the council the right to deploy intervention teams when EU external borders are ”under pressure” - for instance, in case of the arrival of large numbers of refugees.

MEPs endorsed a clause which gives the council the right to send teams even to a member state that does not want the help. The country’s objections can be overruled by a qualified majority of the other member states.

The new guard, with an annual budget of €300 million, will have twice the financial and human resources of the current border agency, Frontex, which it will replace.

”If this appears to be too limited, there’s a possibility to grow financial resources until 2020”, Pabriks said.

The agency’s pool of 1,500 guards should have the capacity to be deployed ”within days”, he added.

The idea to set up a European agency for border guards is not new. It was floated by then-commissioner Antonio Vitorino back in 2002.

But member states were reluctant to give the EU too much control of their borders and opted for a more limited approach.

They felt more comfortable with Frontex, which only managed operational cooperation at external borders.

One and a half year ago, an EU source told this website that the commission was dusting off the idea of a new EU border guard with an independent command and control centre.

But it was a long-term plan, the contact stressed, and mentioned 2030 or 2035 as realistic dates for such an agency to open.

The reason why everyone, including MEPs, is now endorsing the propoal is the ”very strong pressure at EU borders [with] migration and asylum seeking”, Pabriks said.

”Not every country at the EU external border is able alone to face the challenges.”

Non-governmental organisations remain sceptical, however. Ecre, the European council on refugees and exiles, told this website the parliament had failed to clarify a number of human rights concerns.

In a report published earlier this year with the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International, Ecre said: "The division of responsibilities between the agency and member states remains unclear, which is illustrated by tasks being variously described as 'coordination' 'cooperation' 'facilitation' or 'support' without any clear definition of these terms".

The parliament failed to clarify responsibility for possible human rights violations, Ecre secretary general Catherine Woollard told EUobserver.

"We are also concerned about the lack of a strong, independent complaints mechanism, and overall lack of safeguards," she added.

Artis Pabriks told this website the EP report safeguarded the right to asylum.

He said that since the visit of pope Francis to the European Parliament in November 2014, "we know the EU has the highest standards in the world".

He added that the parliament has proposed to strengthen the capacities and budget of the fundamental rights officer who already exists at Frontex.

Ecre welcomed the step, and suggested strengthening the role of human rights reporting.

"The strengthening of the independent complaints mechanism is positive. However it is hard to see how independence will be guaranteed in the model described," Woollard said.

The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) told Libe members on Monday (30 May) that refoulement of potential asylum seekers was currently one of its main concerns.

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