EU: Frontex splashes out: millions of euros for new technology and equipment

The approval of the new Frontex Regulation in November 2019 implied an increase of competences, budget and capabilities for the EU's border agency, which is now equipping itself with increased means to monitor events and developments at the borders and beyond, as well as renewing its IT systems to improve the management of the reams of data to which it will have access.


In 2020 Frontex's budget grew to €420.6 million, an increase of over 34% compared to 2019. The European Commission has proposed that in the next EU budget (formally known as the Multiannual Financial Framework or MFF, covering 2021-27) €11 billion will be made available to the agency, although legal negotiations are ongoing and have hit significant stumbling blocks due to Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and political disagreements.

Nevertheless, the increase for this year has clearly provided a number of opportunities for Frontex. For instance, it has already agreed contracts worth €28 million for the acquisition of dozens of vehicles equipped with thermal and day cameras, surveillance radar and sensors.

According to the contract for the provision of Mobile Surveillance Systems, these new tools will be used "for detection, identification and recognising of objects of interest e.g. human beings and/or groups of people, vehicles moving across the border (land and sea), as well as vessels sailing within the coastal areas, and other objects identified as objects of interest". [1]

Frontex has also published a call for tenders for Maritime Analysis Tools, worth a total of up to €2.6 million. With this, Frontex seeks to improve access to "big data" for maritime analysis. [2] The objective of deploying these tools is to enhance Frontex's operational support to EU border, coast guard and law enforcement authorities in "suppressing and preventing, among others, illegal migration and cross-border crime in the maritime domain".

Moreover, the system should be capable of delivering analysis and identification of high-risk threats following the collection and storage of "big data". It is not clear how much human input and monitoring there will be of the identification of risks. The call for tenders says the winning bidder should have been announced in May, but there is no public information on the chosen company so far.

As part of a 12-month pilot project to examine how maritime analysis tools could "support multipurpose operational response," Frontex previously engaged the services of the Tel Aviv-based company Windward Ltd, which claims to fuse "maritime data and artificial intelligence… to provide the right insights, with the right context, at the right time." [3] Windward, whose current chairman is John Browne, the former CEO of the multinational oil company BP, received €783,000 for its work. [4]

As the agency's gathering and processing of data increases, it also aims to improve and develop its own internal IT systems, through a two-year project worth €34 million. This will establish a set of "framework contracts". Through these, each time the agency seeks a new IT service or system, companies selected to participate in the framework contracts will submit bids for the work. [5]

The agency is also seeking a 'Software Solution for EBCG [European Border and Coast Guard] Team Members to Access to Schengen Information System', through a contract worth up to €5 million. [6] The Schengen Information System (SIS) is the EU's largest database, enabling cooperation between authorities working in the fields of police, border control and customs of all the Schengen states (26 EU member states plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) and its legal bases were recently reformed to include new types of alert and categories of data. [7]

This software will give Frontex officials direct access to certain data within the SIS. Currently, they have to request access via national border guards in the country in which they are operating. This would give complete autonomy to Frontex officials to consult the SIS whilst undertaking operations, shortening the length of the procedure. [8]

With the legal basis for increasing Frontex's powers in place, the process to build up its personnel, material and surveillance capacities continues, with significant financial implications.

Notes

[1] Framework Contract for Provision of Mobile Surveillance Systems for Frontex Operational Activities, TED
[2] Maritime Analysis Tools, TED
[3] Windward, 'About us'; Poland-Warsaw: Maritime analysis tools - Contract notice, TED
[4] Poland-Warsaw: Maritime analysis tools - Contract award notice, TED
[5] Multiple Framework Contract with Reopening of Competition for the Provision Services for Development, Consultancy and Support of Information Systems under Time and Means Conditions, TED
[6] Framework Contract for the Development of ICT Software Solution for EBCG Team Members Access to Schengen Information System (A2SISII), TED
[7] New Schengen Information System rules in force: deportation decisions to be included, new types of police check permitted, Statewatch News, 7 January 2019
[8] Article 36, Regulation (EU) 2018/1861 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 November 2018 on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of border checks

 

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