EU: Field testing: CLOSEYE project puts drones over the Mediterranean

Statewatch article: RefNo# 32328

A multi-million euro border control project was launched in Spain at the end of April that will see drones, satellites and aerostats deployed over the southern Mediterranean in an attempt to provide the EU "with an operational and technical framework that increases situational awareness and improves the reaction capability of authorities surveying the external borders of the EU." [1]

The project - "collaborative evaluation of border surveillance technologies in maritime environment by pre-operational validation of innovative solutions", shoehorned into the abbreviation CLOSEYE - has received over €9 million in funding from the security strand of the EU's 7th Framework Programme (FP7), an amount that makes up more than three-quarters of its €12.2 million total budget. [2]

Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa, head of Spain's Guardia Civil, told the CLOSEYE launch meeting in Madrid that "the project would improve public safety at sea as well as fighting illegal immigration and assisting border control. The Guardia Civil aims to protect the Spanish and Europeans as well as helping those who risk their lives at sea for a better future in Europe," according to Euro Weekly News. [3]

The Moroccan paper Ya Biladi reports that Spanish Lieutenant Colonel José Manuel Santiago told the press conference that CLOSEYE was meant to "quickly send alerts on what's going on without waiting for migrants or mafia to reach the Spanish coast." [4]

CLOSEYE is intended to reinforce the SIVE project (Sistema Integrado de Vigilancia Exterior, Integrated System for External Surveillance) which has been in operation since 2002 and uses radar and surveillance cameras "scattered throughout the coastline to scan incoming vessels and intercept them if they are suspicious." [5] The addition of satellite imagery, aerostats, and drones such as the Camcopter S-100 [6] will significantly increase the powers of state authorities acting in the Mediterranean Sea.

The project will bring together the Portuguese Ministry of Internal Administration, the Italian Space Agency, the Italian Centre for Aerospace Research (CIRA) the Spanish state-owned firm ISDEFE (System Engineering for the Defence of Spain), the European Commission, the EU Satellite Centre (SatCen) and the Italian Ministry of Defence under the aegis of the Spanish Interior Ministry. One of the criteria for involvement in the project is "to be deeply involved in the development of EUROSUR [the European Border Surveillance System] and other initiatives that target security in a maritime environment." [7]

The EU's border agency, Frontex, will also be involved, acting in an advisory role to the Project Management Board. This will establish "a non-binding link between the project experiments and the FRONTEX coordinated Joint Operations that take place in the areas of interest, namely Alboran Sea and Central Mediterranean region." The Alboran Sea lies to the east of the Strait of Gibraltar.

CLOSEYE will run for 38 months, after which it is expected that a working system will be in place that can be "homogenised to the entire European Union." [8] With Frontex in the process of preparing aerial surveillance missions at the Greek-Turkish border, and discussions between the Council and Parliament on the EUROSUR ongoing, [9] plans for fortifying Europe's borders with surveillance and detection technologies are developing fast.

The article in Ya Biladi argues that the SIVE and CLOSEYE projects, and the mindset of Frontex, demonstrate a "security logic" approach to irregular immigration, which benefits "private companies dealing in armaments and surveillance technologies."

CLOSEYE will run in three phases:

  • 2013: Definition (needs, analysis, validation strategy and tendering, elaboration and evaluation);
  • 2014-15: Execution (tender awards and contract management, experiment planning, execution and supervision);
  • 2015-16: Evaluation (solutions validation, assessment and recommendations) [9]

The website makes little mention of the need to "improve public safety" or to "help those who risk their lives at sea for a better future in Europe," and appears to demonstrate a rather different mindset. One statement on the front page notes that:

"By promoting this competitive testing and assessment of the potential solutions, CLOSEYE will pave the way towards the definition of future integrated surveillance solutions from a fact-checked perspective, fully validated from those who, eventually, will face the upcoming security threats and risks."

Further reading

[1] Collaborative evaLuation Of border Surveillance Technologies in maritime Environment bY pre-operational validation of innovativE solutions
[2] Cordis, Collaborative evaLuation Of border Surveillance technologies in maritime Environment bY pre-operational validation of innovativE solutions
[3] Jose EWN, Spain spearpoints maritime spying, Euro Weekly News, 4 May 2013
[4] Julie Chaudier, Immigration Maroc-UE : L’œil de big brother sur le détroit de Gibraltar, Ya Biladi, 10 May 2013
[5] SPAIN: Illegal immigration falls in EU, Frontex, ITN Source, 30 October 2009
[6] Strait drones tested, Gibraltar Chronicle, 22 April 2013
[7] CLOSEYE, Partners of the project
[8] Proyecto “Closeye”: La Guardia Civil lidera un proyecto que incorporará UAVs para el control de las fronteras del Sur de Europa,, 19 April 2013
[9] EU: Council of the European Union: Draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR), April 2013
[10] CLOSEYE, Project phases and work packages


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