17 September 2020
The Council Working Party on Frontiers met last week, on Wednesday 9 September, in part to review a Frontex report outlining the “current state of play of the main activities related to the establishment of the standing corps and description of the plans for the future”. The report covers the recruitment of permanent staff, the secondment of member state border guards, training, uniforms, and equipment of the new standing corps, who will have executive powers - for example, to permit or refuse entry - at the EU's borders.
See: Implementation report on the standing corps establishment (10361/20, LIMITE, 1 September 2020, pdf)
The deployment of the standing corps will be based on a multiannual plan, designed to “strengthen the capabilities of the EBCG”. Once staff from category 1 (permanent Frontex staff) and category 2 (member state officers on long-term deployment) are confirmed and assigned, the agency will then request short-term deployed staff (category 3) from member states.
Recruitment for category 1 standing corps staff began in October 2019, and the first 265 candidates will be ready for deployment on 1 January 2020. Until then, they are completing compulsory border guard training to become “fully-fledged” Frontex officers.
As expressed in an internal Frontex report published by Statewatch in April, the Covid-19 pandemic has put quite a spanner in the recruitment works, with the ongoing process now split into three sections to accommodate “the new normal”.
Since October, almost 7,500 people have applied to become category 1 Frontex standing corps staff. This despite reported difficulties in attracting permanent staff, given the lower wage awarded to EU agency employees in Poland. The first of these applicants were able to undergo physical tests and face-to-face interviews in Warsaw before the lock-downs of March 2020. Of 285 individuals who were offered posts, 265 accepted.
Later applicants have had to be patient during online interviews and a delay of physical exams until July 2020. The 200 successful applicants of this second phase expect to be “integrated” in October, and will eventually start deployments in May 2021.
The third and final group of 100 successful applicants have experienced the whole process online, with interviews and “physical aptitude” tests to be conducted remotely this month. A reserve list will be drawn up in November and, after medical checks and training, they will be deployed in September next year.
The document also covers plans for categories 2 and 3 of the standing corps: national officers to be deployed to Frontex missions on long- and short-term assignments, respectively.
The Frontex management board decision on profiles of staff to fill these categories was made in January this year. Subsequently, requests were made to member states and Schengen Associated Countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) at the end of June to nominate officers for these roles.
Category 2 (long-term deployment) profiles will be verified on 15 September. Where nominations by states are considered ineligible, the member state will assume the obligation to nominate an alternative in order to fill their quota.
These quotas were outlined in the annex to the 2019 Regulation.
Training has also been split into an online phase and an in-person phase, with the location of the on-site training yet to be announced. The third wave of recruits may be the first to complete their full 6 months training face-to-face.
The implementation report insists that as well as specialised profile-related training on border management, return and specific operational elements, this training will involve “raising necessary awareness of respect of fundamental rights”, with an emphasis on vulnerable persons including children.
Fundamental rights standards are included in the basic training syllabus acquired by Statewatch. However, it remains unclear to what extent staff will act in full compliance with them, if no truly independent mechanisms are introduced to monitor Frontex activities.
The framework contract for uniforms was signed in May, and the design and specification decided by the Frontex Management Board is now available.
The design has been benchmarked to other border guard and law enforcement uniforms in Europe, the most recent concept being that of the Estonian Border Guard. Technical specifications of armed forces and law enforcement agencies in Sweden, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain have also been studied.
As the uniform specification outlines, the dual purpose of the design will be twofold. Firstly, its “strategic purpose” is to convey EU values, “integrating the authority and the service to the Union”. Specifically, it aims to “carry authority but must not be intimidating”. Its “operational and tactical purpose” is to allow statutory agency staff to carry out duties “in line with the duty of care across all types of indoor and outdoor conditions associated with the external borders, the pre-frontier area and Third countries.”
The blue uniform with fluorescent yellow safety equipment is intended to be “recognisable as law enforcement while at the same time symbolically conveying the European dimension and its values”. It includes socks, as a “basic and highly symbolic item regarding Frontex Duty of Care”.
Border Violence Monitoring Network has logged numerous testimonies of migrants present in one state being pushed back or subjected to violence by border guards who appear to be officials other states. A standardised uniform may, at least, make the process of verifying whether these individuals are there on Frontex operations somewhat more straightforward.
Basic equipment and weapons
As discussed in the internal report published in April, the 2019 Frontex regulation does not explicitly state that the agency can acquire weapons. A n internal Commission consultation to establish what legal basis there is for the agency’s acquisition, storage, and transport of service weapons and “non-lethal” equipment is ongoing.
The acquisition of non-lethal equipment is still expected by the end of the year.
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