EU: Study proposes giving EU complete control over Schengen borders

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A study carried out for the European Commission has proposed that powers for the management and control of the external borders of the Schengen area should be "exercised at EU level on a permanent basis." [1]

The study was launched "to evaluate the feasibility of the creation of a European System of Border Guards (ESBG) for improved management of the external borders of the Union, and to address the future role of the Frontex Agency."

It was conducted by the Belgian arm of consulting firm Unisys, which also undertook the 2006 report 'Study on Conferring executive powers on Border Officers Operation at the External borders of the EU'. [2]

The recent report was completed in June but not published until October. It proposes a long-term process, in which direct EU control over external borders is the final stage.

The first step involves the "optimal use of existing resources" - fully exploiting the current legal and policy framework in order to "further increase the solidarity and burden-sharing in the Schengen Area."

Following this is "an intermediary step towards achieving full integration of external border management at EU level."

An EU-level body would take responsibility for controlling operations in areas where large groups of people are attempting to cross borders - "hot spots", in the terminology of the study. It is proposed that these operations be carried out by a 'European Border Corps'.

If the "hot spots" system is succesfully implemented, the third step would follow: "the development of a true EU system of border management."

Under this proposal, the 'European Border Corps' would be made up of "border guards from all Schengen States who would perform their duty under the command and control of the newly established EU body the Committee on Schengen Border Management."

Parliamentary opinion?

The study presents "the gradual integration of border management" and the "creation of the ESBG" in the long run as being "the prevailing position at the European Parliament" (EP).

Interviews at the European Parliament covered the majority of parliamentary groups but were conducted with just three MEPS (Ska Keller of the Greens, Sylvie Guillaume of the Socialists & Democrats and Jan Mulder of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats); two advisors to MEPs (representing the European People's Party and the European United Left); one political advisor to a parliamentary group (the European United Left); and one parliamentary official.

In contrast, representatives of 26 Member States were consulted through questionnaires and in "focus groups" with "different experts". 14 Frontex officials were consulted for the study, and one representative of the European Commission.

A caveat regarding the opinions of MEPs and parliamentary officials is buried deep within the report's annex: "the majority of the questioned interviews opted for a more integrated border management approach, with the exception of environmental/social rights oriented political groups," which presumably refers to the Greens and the European United Left.

Cornelia Ernst, an MEP from the German Die Linke (The Left) party and Civil Liberties Committee coordinator for the European Parliament grouping European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), told Statewatch:

"It comes as no surprise that this study does not address at all the problems we face at the European borders today. Instead, the question of an integrated system of European border guards is treated like a philosophical exercise. If one wants to discuss this question in a sensible manner, one has to understand first that it is precisely our strict border regime and surveillance that does not allow for safe routes into the EU. I completely fail to see how under these circumstances deeper integration of the border guards in combination with more awareness for fundamental rights could provide a solution to the problem we face today, that is thousands of dead migrants in the Mediterranean."

In an email to Statewatch a representative of GUE/NGL criticised the methodology of the study, saying that it was "quite clear that the EP was being interviewed at the very end of the research," and only "because the LIBE [Civil Liberties Committee] secretariat had insisted."

Statewatch contacted one of the authors of the Unisys report, who said via email that:

"the views expressed are those of the authors... our team was left with discretion to propose recommendations that appear the most suitable. Thus, after presenting different views which differed significantly from one political group to another, the team concluded the report with what it evaluated was the most feasible and realistic solution (i.e. a progressive step by step model implementation)."

He added: "the visit to the EP was certainly considered of great importance especially due to the fact that the idea of establishing a ESBG initially originated from the EP," although on this point the authors are mistaken.

The Unisys report suggests that the idea of a European System of Border Guards originated in a "report on the review of the 2004 legislation setting up Frontex," authored by former MEP Simon Busuttil, which "proposed to study the establishment of a European Union Border Guard System."

The report does not contain a precise date or link to this report, and the Unisys employee whom Statewatch contacted apologetically said: "unfortunately, we are not able to provide you with the link of Mr Busuttil's report, as requested."

The document in question is presumably a parliamentary report, for which Busuttil was the rapporteur, on the 2011 Regulation amending Frontex's legal basis. [3] This succesfully added provisions to the Regulation that obliged the next evaluation of Frontex to consider "the feasibility of the creation of a European system of border guards."

But it was in as far back as 2001 that the establishment of a European Border Guard was first officially called for, by the European Commission, [4] which subsequently co-financed a 'Feasibility study for the setting up of a European border police'. The final report of that study was published in 2002. [5]

Political implications

The political implications of handing responsibility for control of the Schengen area's external borders to an EU committee are significant, and according to the study:

"Participants to focus groups meetings repeatedly insisted that the answers for some of the questions imply making political statements. The study team took their observation into consideration while remaining neutral in presenting the results of the study."

The Commission previously stated in response to questions from potential contractors for the study that "the political feasibility [of establishing a European System of Border Guards] is not covered by the purpose of the tender specification" and that "the tender specifications do not impose a limitation on a specific model. All models can be addressed." [6]

Statewatch asked the Commission's Directorate-General for Home Affairs (DG HOME) its opinion on the study, and was told:

"The Commission is currently reflecting on the possible ways to launch the policy debate on the long-term development of the management of the external borders of the EU. The study conducted by Unisys and all of its content is the responsibility of the contractor and does not represent the position of the Commission. The Commission took note of the findings of the study."

The Commission refused to comment on whether it considered the findings to be politically, legally or financially realistic, merely commenting that: "The Commission will launch in due time the policy debate on these issues."

The Commission paid Unisys nearly 290,000 euros for the study. Alongside a separate evaluation of the agency, it will be used to assess the future development of Frontex. The Commission said:

"According to the revised Article 33 of the Frontex Regulation the first independent evaluation will also need to address the possible creation of a European System of border guards. That study is ongoing and is scheduled to be completed towards mid 2015. It is the task of the independent evaluator to take into consideration all relevant material at its disposal to conduct the evaluation."

The contract for the independent evaluation was awarded at the end of August to Danish firm Rambøll Management Consulting. [7]

Further reading

  • 'Commission launches study on the possible creation of a "European System of Border Guards" to be operated by Frontex', Statewatch News Online, July 2013

    [1] Unisys, 'Study on the feasibiity of the creation of a European System of Border Guards to control the external borders of the Union', 16 June 2014
    [2] 'Commission launches study on the possible creation of a "European System of Border Guards" to be operated by Frontex', Statewatch News Online, July 2013
    [3] 'REPORT on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of 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)', 15 July 2011
    [4] European Commission, 'Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on a common policy on illegal immigration', COM(2011) 672 final, 15 November 2011
    [5] 'Feasibility study for the setting up of a European border police - final report', 2002
    [6] 'Commission launches study on the possible creation of a "European System of Border Guards" to be operated by Frontex', Statewatch News Online, July 2013
    [7] 'Poland-Warsaw: External evaluation of the Agency under Article 33 of the Frontex Regulation', 10 September 2014

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