Friday

3rd Feb 2023

EU agrees to boost border agency's powers

  • Frontex teams at work on the Greek-Turkish border, the busiest crossing point for EU-bound irregular migrants (Photo: frontex.europa.eu)

On the eve of a two-day summit covering migration issues as well as the Greek crisis, the EU's main institutions have agreed to give extra powers to the bloc's border agency Frontex on human trafficking and other cross-border crimes.

The deal reached on Wednesday (22 June) by EU governments, the European Parliament and the European Commission will allow Frontex to buy or lease its own equipment - such as helicopters and terrain vehicles, so as to make it less dependant on assets lent by member states.

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Pending formal approval by the European Parliament in September, the agreement will also make it more binding for member states to stick to their commitments when pledging border guards to the Warsaw-based agency, who will now be deployed as "European border guard teams" whenever a country is struggling to secure the EU frontier.

As EU leaders are about to discuss the possibility of re-introducing border controls between EU countries when a state is faced with a mass influx of migrants, Frontex will play a key role in "regularly assessing the capacity of member states to face upcoming challenges at the external borders."

The link between migration and security is further strengthened by giving Frontex "the possibility to transfer personal data to Europol or other EU law enforcement agencies regarding persons suspected of involvement in cross-border criminal activities, facilitation of illegal immigration activities or in human trafficking activities," the agreement reads.

In a bid to stem irregular migration, Frontex will also be allowed to launch technical assistance projects and deploy liaison officers in countries of origin and transit and play a bigger role in return operations.

On the human rights side - always a matter of concern when it comes to border guards dealing with refugees and paper-less migrants - Frontex will now have a "fundamental rights officer" and be part of a "consultative forum on fundamental rights."

Commenting on the deal, home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that it will "ensure that, in the performance of their tasks, members of Frontex teams fully respect fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulment."

The new powers are likely to be welcomed by EU leaders, as a latest draft of conclusions to be adopted on Friday reads.

EU leaders are likely to ask the European Commission to develop a "safeguard mechanism" allowing for the re-introduction of temporary border controls "when parts of the external border are under unexpected and heavy pressure or when a member state fails to comply with its obligations."

One senior EU official noted that it is the first time that EU leaders will discuss migration, border controls and the enlargement of Schengen at the same meeting, for a long time considered "too difficult to talk about."

"There is a high degree of political consensus that whatever we can do to strengthen the common external border should be building on Frontex," the source said.

Part of the leaders discussion will also be to push forward rapidly with work on "smart borders" - a registered travellers system where frequent EU travellers swipe their passports and do not need to be checked by border guards. A more controversial entry-exit system on the US model is also on the table, despite its estimated cost of one billion euro, intended to catch visa overstays from other countries.

On the asylum front, a deal on having a common system by 2012 is likely to keep the so-called Dublin regulation for sending refugees back to the first EU country they arrived in unchanged, despite a proposal from the EU commission to have a special clause for countries under exceptional strain.

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