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The new European Border and Coast Guard Agency

In a post from December 2018, we showed that the idea to create a permanent corps of 10,000 European Border and Coast Guards, in addition to the already existing 115,000 national border guards was already underway but that not all Member States agreed with the proposal. During the last summit of 2018, EU leaders refused to move forward with the initiative showing concerns on the issue of national sovereignty over border control. Moreover, the question of the expansion of the mandate of the border and coast guards to operate in third countries beyond EU’s immediate neighbourhood and offer more assistance for returnee operations was still being discussed.

In the beginning of April, a political agreement was reached allowing Frontex to deliver technical and operational support to Member States in return operations, including on their owns initiative. This new mandate will help Frontex to strengthen its cooperation with third countries. The scope of the actions to be taken by the European Border and Coast Guards will be considerably broader than border surveillance. On 17 April the European Parliament adopted the new law to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard. This new law was approved in parallel to changes to the Schengen visa rules. It seems that the main reason why the new law was adopted so swiftly was the upcoming European Parliament elections. Starting this summer, the European Border and Coast Guard will have its own allocated material, staff with executive power and a larger budget. It is foreseen that the number of borer and coast guards will be 5.000 in 2021 and double that figure in 2027.

The new law aims to resolve two main challenges. The first goal is to give the European Border and Coast Guards more autonomy and operational effectiveness. The second goal is to increase the security of external boarder, by further implementing the European Integrated Border Management Strategy as the proposal for a regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard states that “[t]he key role of the Agency should be to establish a technical and operational strategy developed under the multiannual strategic policy cycle for implementation of European integrated border management”.

A key change brought forth with the new agency´s mandate is the importance given to their role on the return of irregular migrants. Frontex will now participate in various activities related to return such as preparing return decisions and escorting and returning migrants including minors. The importance given to return echoes one of the main changes proposed to the visa code which is to “punish” third countries that do not collaborate with the EU on return and readmission by submitting them to stricter visa rules.

Finally, regarding the importance of returns in Frontex´s mandate it is worrisome that the Regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard does not foresee the existence of an independent monitoring mechanism that would ensure that returns are conducted in respect of human rights. For now, what is foreseen is that the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture will be able to conduct monitoring missions during returns which can arguably be inadequate.

Author: Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser

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