The Buzz

Beware the EU's Dictatorial Border Control Plans

In response to the recent tragic attacks in Paris and the growing threat from foreign terrorist fighters, the European Commission presented on December 15, 2015, its plan aiming at managing the Europe’s migration crisis more effectively by improving the internal security of the European Union and by safeguarding the principle of free movement of persons guaranteed by the Schengen open-borders system. The Commission proposed establishing the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which will be created from the existing border agency Frontex and the EU member states’ authorities responsible for border management, who will continue to exercise the day-to-day management of the external border.

Frontex (“European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States”), which is the EU agency based in Warsaw (Poland), was so far only responsible for the coordination of the protection of borders between sovereign member states, without powers to purchase its own equipment, nor to directly employ its own border guard staff. Furthermore, the agency previously needed permission before operating in a member state, and was even banned from buying machines to scan the fingerprints of people arriving in Europe—a shortage of which was one of the main reasons why two-thirds of the people who entered through Greece went unregistered.

Due to the strong emphasis common border policing repeatedly demanded by the governments in Paris and Berlin—being alarmed at the threat to the Schengen open-borders system from up to a million undocumented migrants arriving by sea and heading north from Greece and Italy this year, and encouraged by the U.S. move to suspend visa-free entry for citizens of many European countries who have made recent trips to Syria and Iraq as well as Iran and Sudan—the new agency have been equipped to act independently by reporting directly to the European Commission.

According to the European Commission’s press release, the new body called European Border and Coast Guard will have 1,000 permanent staff (compared to about 400 at Frontex at the moment) by 2020, including field operatives, and member states will have to put at least 1,500 personnel on standby for deployment within 3 days—being empowered with a mandate to intervene if member states are overwhelmed or are deemed to be failing to safeguard the EU's external borders.

The Agency will also have at its disposal a technical equipment pool where member states will be required to make available at immediate notice operational equipment acquired at a 90 percent co-financing rate under the additional allocations of specific actions of the Internal Security Fund, and a Returns Office with the task of stepping up deportations of those who fail to qualify for asylum. It will also increase systematic security and identity checks at the Schengen frontiers, including of EU citizens who typically pass with limited scrutiny at present, as apparently many of those who have carried out Islamist attacks in Europe in the past two years have been EU citizens who have fought in Syria and then returned to their home countries, notably to France and Belgium.

The Commission says that an estimated 5,000 EU citizens have joined militant groups, and an unprecedented 1.5 million people crossed into the EU irregularly between January and November 2015.

In this context, the Commission also proposed a one-year suspension of Sweden’s obligations under the EU relocation scheme, in view of the unique strain on its capacities, created by the sharp increase in applications for international protection. The country where number of applications have increased year-on-year by 60 percent, and monthly applications doubled between August and September 2015, with a further 60 percent increase in October 2015.

The European Border and Coast Guard will also have the power to operate in non-EU members of the Schengen zone, such as Serbia and Macedonia, which are part of the well-trodden Western Balkan route used by thousands of migrants.

Nonetheless, even though European leaders have discussed a common border force for more than 15 years, they could never overcome deep-seated objections to yielding national powers to monitor or enforce borders.

The plan is still perceived by many as a serious transfer of sovereignty from national governments, where the agency will be able to act without the concerned country’s approval, and although member states would be consulted, they would not have the power to veto a deployment unilaterally.