EU: European Parliament: thumbs up for beefing up Frontex

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On Wednesday 6 July the European Parliament approved a proposal to turn the EU border agency Frontex into a 'European Border and Coast Guard Agency', with new powers that have been heavily criticised by some of the Parliament's political groups as well as civil society organisations. The new agency is expected to start operations in the autumn.

The text of the new Regulation - which was agreed in secret trilogue meetings between Council, Parliament and Commission negotiators before being voted on by the full Parliament - was adopted with 483 votes in favour, 181 votes against and 48 abstentions. A breakdown of the vote can be seen on the VoteWatch Europe website (link).

One significant feature of the upgraded Frontex will be establishment of a "rapid reaction" pool of 1,500 border guards or "other relevant staff" that in certain situations can be deployed in Member States following a decision of the Council, without the invitation of the state in question (although they will have to agree to the "operational plan).

As Article 19(5) of the text approved by the Parliament (pdf) puts it, this will be:

"a standing corps placed at the immediate disposal of the Agency and which can be deployed from each Member State within five working days from when the operational plan is agreed upon by the Executive Director and the host Member State."

The number of border guards or "other relevant staff" to be supplied by each Member State are set out in the agreed text and noted in the European Parliament's press release (pdf), along with a summary of the changes to the agency's role.

The agency will also have a greater role in organising and coordinating return (deportation) operations; more possibilities for cooperating with non-EU states on "migration management"; and new powers to collect personal data and transmit it to Europol in the name of fighting crime and terrorism.

Head of the Greens/EFA group in the Parliament, Ska Keller, said:

“This plan would transform FRONTEX into a border defence and deportation agency. Instead of being guided by the principle refugee protection, this new scheme would penalise EU member states that let in too many refugees or deport too few persons who have no right to stay in the EU. They could be forced to accept FRONTEX border operations against their will under threat of expulsion from Schengen. That undermines the very essence of what the EU is about.

Human rights and refugee protection are clearly an afterthought under this plan. Despite having expanded competences, FRONTEX will shamefully not be obliged to carry out more search and rescue at sea, despite the record levels of those drowning seeking to cross the Mediterranean."

See: FRONTEX transformed into return agency (Greens/EFA press release, link)

Campaign group Frontexit, made up of a number of civil society organisations, also denounced the approval of the agency's new mandate:

"Over a year since the announcement that Frontex agency would be reinforced to address the so-called "migration crisis", the securitisation of European borders has brought deplorable results: increase in the number of migrants and refugees who died in the Mediterranean, as well as in human rights violations and violence they are facing at the borders and in the “hotspots”...

Such reinforcement of capacities of an EU agency is unprecedented and turns a complete blind eye to a number of human rights violations, although this has been largely documented by non-governmental organisations as well as by official bodies - including by Frontex itself which softly refers to them as “incidents”. Nevertheless, no independent mechanism has been provided for in the new mandate to hold the agency directly and effectively judicially accountable.

In fact, instead of opening legal and safe pathways to Europe, the EU facilitates irregular migration which increases death toll amongst migrants and gives a push to trafficking."

See: The EU obsessed with waging a war against migrants and refugees: English, French (Frontexit press release, pdf)

Giving more powers to Frontex has long been on the EU's agenda - as far back as 2001, the European Commission co-financed a 'Feasibility study for the setting up of a European border police'. The 2004 legislation establishing Frontex was itself amended twice, in 2007 and 2011.

A more recent study paid for by the Commission proposes a long-term process in which direct EU control over external borders is the final stage. The creation of the European Border and Coast Guard would seem to be another step in that direction. See: Study proposes giving EU complete control over Schengen borders (Statewatch News Online, December 2014)

Press coverage: Super-Frontex approved, acclaimed and decried (EurActiv, link)

Background documentation on the decision-making process can be found on the Statewatch European Monitoring and Documentation Centre: Regulation on a European Border and Coast Guard Agency

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