EU: Commission launches study on the possible creation of a "European System of Border Guards" to be operated by Frontex (1)

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The possibility of establishing a "European System of Border Guards" is to be examined in a new study that is aimed at informing a future evaluation of Frontex, the EU's border control agency.

The study will be carried out by the multinational consulting and IT giant Unisys, who won the contract at the end of June at a cost of €289,357 and will use the study to set out three potential models for a European System of Border Guards. [1] This will inform an evaluation of Frontex due to take place in 2014, and which may lead to the redrafting of the agency's grounding legislation.

For each of the three models, the study is required to consider a number of issues:

  • Whether the creation of a European System of Border Guards is feasible from a legal and operational point of view; and if necessary to identify and describe the different steps that could in the longer term lead to the gradual creation of such a system;
  • Determine what legal provisions are necessary to create a European corps of border guards under the control and command of the Frontex Agency in order to perform border control duties at the external borders of the Union;
  • Find out the main aspects that are necessary to build a European System of Border Guards (tasks, powers, budget, human or other resources etc.);
  • Determine the boundaries of such a system and provide information the needs that such a system would require and provide different scenarios in this context;
  • Define the added value of a creation of a European System of Border Guards, also in terms of saving budgetary means, including a rough estimation of the necessary EU budget that such a European system would require;
  • Provide the necessary elements to determine the role of the Frontex Agency to operate a European System of Border Guards;
  • Analyse if changes are necessary to the Schengen Borders Code if such a European System of Border Guards is created, and which role such system might have in relation to Eurosur and the Schengen evaluation mechanism.

    The Commission has recommended that the new study build upon research carried out in 2006 and published in a report entitled 'Study on Conferring executive powers on Border Officers Operation at the External borders of the EU'. [2] This was also carried out by Unisys. The firm has also been involved in a number of the EU's internal security projects, such as the upgrade of the Schengen Information System to SIS II and its intended "synergy" with the Visa Information System. [3]

    Article 2 of the Frontex Regulation already gives the agency the possibility to establishing "European Border Guard Teams that are to be deployed during joint operations, pilot projects and rapid interventions". European Border Guard Teams, formerly known as Rapid Border Intervention Teams, have been deployed most notably at the Greek-Turkish border. In one operation that ran from November 2010 to March 2011, "close to 200 well-trained guest officers from 26 Member States assisted their Greek colleagues in controlling the border areas as well as in identifying the apprehended irregular immigrants." [4]

    It would be surprising if Member States handed over responsibility for the control of their borders - a core sovereign function - to an agency of the European Union, but it would be equally surprising if Unisys chose not to examine this possibility. Prior to submitting their bids, a number of potential contractors submitted to the Commission questions, one of which was:

    "[I]t is possible to suggest a system in which Frontex is fully and exclusively mandated to guard the EU's external borders: would such a far reaching model be a model DG HOME [the European Commission's Directorate-General for Home Affairs] would like to have assessed in this study?"

    The Commission answered: "The tender specifications do not impose a limitation on a specific model. All models can be addressed." [5]

    It is not clear when the results of the study will be published, although the tender specifications state that "the duration of the tasks shall not exceed ten months" from the date on which the contract enters into force.

    It is likely that the results will be of great concern not just amongst NGOs and others who have frequently criticised Frontex operations and the agency's apparent lack of accountability, but also to Member States who may fear losing a significant aspect of their sovereignty. The Commission seems to be aware of this: an answer to one question from a prospective contractor states that "the political feasibility is not covered by the purpose of the tender specification." [6]

    Why is the study happening now?

    At the same time as adopting the amended Frontex Regulation in 2011, the Commission made two declarations - one that outlined its intention to issue an annual report to the European Parliament and the Council "on the implementation of the monitoring of return operations", and one on launching "a feasibility study regarding the creation of a European system of border guard [sic], as referred to in the Stockholm programme, within one year from the adoption of this Regulation." [7]

    The results of the study will inform the evaluation of the functioning of Frontex outlined in Article 33 of the agency's current grounding legislation. This mandates the Management Board to commission "an independent external evaluation on the implementation of this Regulation" three years after the date of entry into force of the legislation, and says that the evaluation should:

    "[A]nalyse the needs for further increased coordination of the management of the external borders of the Member States, including the feasibility of the creation of a European system of border guards." [8]

    Further reading

  • Statewatch's Observatory on Frontex
  • Frontex: "optionally-piloted" aircraft tests, but no drones... yet, Statewatch News Online, 29 May 2013
  • EU policy on irregular migration is "fundamentally at odds with the human rights approach", Statewatch News Online, 23 May 2013
  • European Ombudsman makes 13 recommendations to Frontex to strengthen its fundamental rights strategy, Statewatch News Online, April 2013
  • Marie Martin, "Trust in Frontex": The 2013 work programme, Statewatch Analysis, March 2013

    [1] European Commission, Belgium-Brussels: Study on the feasibility of the creation of a European system of border guards to control the external borders of the Union, 2 July 2013
    [2] Unisys for the European Commission, Study on Conferring executive powers on Border Officers Operating at the External borders of the EU, April 2006
    [3] Eric Töpfer, Unisys Corp: A spider in the web of high-tech security, Statewatch Bulletin, vol 19 no 4, October-December 2009
    [4] European Commission, Frontex and the RABIT operation at the Greek-Turkish border, 2 March 2011
    [5] European Commission, "Study on the feasibility of the creation of a European System of Border Guards to control the external borders of the Union" [Q&A document 1], 22 February 2013; see also Q&A document 2
    [6] Ibid.
    [7] General Secretariat of the Council, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004 establishing a European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX) (first reading) - Adoption of the legislative act (LA + S) = Statements, 14702/11 ADD 1, 3 October 2011
    [8] Steve Peers, The Frontex Regulation - Consolidated text after 2011 amendments, Statewatch Analysis, April 2012

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