Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate

Most EU heads of state and government appear to be pressing ahead with plans to create a standing corps of 10,000 border guards - amid some concerns over national sovereignty.

Speaking to reporters in Salzburg on Thursday (20 September) following a meeting among all 28 leaders, EU council president Donald Tusk said there was a "sharp determination" to expand the EU's border and coast guard, also known as Frontex.

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"It is also clear that there are issues regarding sovereignty and the size of Frontex that will have to be further discussed," he said.

His views were echoed by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Juncker said a "basic consensus" had been reached.

Kurz wants an agreement reached on Frontex before the end of the year, whose role in deporting rejected migrants will also increase, in the hopes of getting the expanded Warsaw-based agency up and running by 2020.

The Austrian chancellor views Frontex as part of a master plan to shore up external borders, telling reporters that other proposals of offloading people rescued at sea onto north African states "is not really necessary for resolving the migration issue."

EU leaders in June had agreed on vague plans to coordinate disembarkation and search and rescue at sea with all the countries rimming the Mediterranean.

Kurz appeared to give the idea short shrift, saying African states should instead emulate Egypt in preventing boats from leaving in the first place.

"Egypt is efficient, Egypt serves as an example when it comes to combatting illegal migration and smuggling of persons. We are grateful for that. We want to support the Egyptians," he said.

Bigger Frontex? No thanks.

But not everybody is convinced of a bigger Frontex - with Greece, Italy, Hungary, and Spain raising red flags.

"There is no need for Frontex to defend the Hungarian border for us," said Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban, according to the MTI news wire.

He said the commission proposal seeks to strip national powers from member states and hand them over to a body managed at the EU level.

"Frontex is a good thing, but Frontex has never ever defended a single metre on the border, while we defended hundreds of metres," Orban said, claiming that this view is in majority in the European Council.

Hungary has erected fences along its border with Serbia, sentenced a Syrian man to jail on terrorism charges after hurling rocks at border police, and has refused to feed rejected asylum seekers.

Orban's chief spokesperson told reporters earlier this month that it is government policy not to offer "free food for any illegal migrants" over fears it will entice others to come.

Meanwhile, Italy's premier Giuseppe Conte was on Thursday quoted in Ansa news agency questioning the usefulness of the extra Frontex investment, noting their deployment also poses a question of sovereignty.

"I'd prefer these investments to be destined for Africa," he told the news agency.

The Frontex proposal

Under the commission's proposal, Frontex's budget would increase six fold to over €11bn for 2021 to 2027.

The commission says the extra money is needed to allow Frontex, which has billed itself as a law enforcement agency, to carry out operations, procure its own equipment, and have its own staff.

It also maintains that national authorities retain operational command and that the EU agency cannot deploy guards without the hosting member state's consent.

But it is also now demanding mandatory contributions from member states given past experience of shortfalls when it comes to both staff and equipment.

Frontex currently has an own staff of 1,300 people and a reserve pool of 1,500 border guards, on loan from member states.

The EU wants a deploying staff of 10,000 with its own executive powers to carry out border control checks. Such tasks are today only performed by national border guards.

The statuary staff of the agency, under the new mandate, would be able to carry out border management and return tasks without having to turn to their national counterparts.

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EU council president Donald Tusk wants to discuss deepening relations with authoritarian Egypt, as a model of migrant reduction, with EU heads of state and government at a meeting in Salzburg, Austria on Wednesday.

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The past 18 months have seen the EU's border agency Frontex morph into a law enforcement as it steps up efforts to crack down on crime and terrorism.

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