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EU’s overhauled border agency to launch gamut of new initiatives

By BROOKS TIGNER

BRUSSELS – Frontex, the EU’s border agency, is gearing up fast to take on its new roles and responsibilities with its new status as of 6 October.

Now formally known as the “European Border and Coast Guard Agency”, the Warsaw-based entity will be pushing out in all directions in the coming months, with more money, more personnel, more responsibilities and, crucially, more say in “advising” (read: telling) the member states what they need to do to strengthen their part of the EU’s external frontier. The latter will be a test of just how seriously the member states take the new agency and, conversely, how seriously the latter is allowed to act on its new responsibilities.

The advice will come in the form of new vulnerability assessments that the agency will begin carrying out in 2017. Before then, however, it has to come up with an assessment methodology and test it.

“This will be a new task for the agency: to identify if a given member state or section of the external border is properly equipped with the capabilities it needs to address a crisis, be it irregular migration or any kind of threat along the external border,” Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri told reporters here on 12 October.

Leggeri said he expects approval of a methodology by Frontex’s management board during 17-21 October. Starting in November, the methodology will then be tested in three EU countries selected for their mix of geographic position, maritime features and land border characteristics: Germany, Finland and Slovenia. Germany was selected for the border challenges posed by its large airports at Frankfurt and Munich, Finland for the remoteness and length of its shoreline and Slovenia for its geographic diversity and proximity to the Balkans. The vulnerability assessments will also include transversal threats such as fake ID and travel documents and trafficking in illegal weapons.

Once the real vulnerability assessments get going, they will yield a set of measures that each member states will have to implement even though compliance is “voluntary”, according to Leggeri.

“We are not talking about compliance with laws or regulations. There could be a member state complies with the [EU’s border] laws. However, if they do not have sufficient equipment, they are not capable of doing so,” he said.

“If it is concluded that the MS should have more equipment or employees, we should bear in mind that the Commission has the funds – the Internal Security Fund or migration funds for that. Depending on the nature of the action require, either the agency will directly pay or the member states can apply for EU funding,” he added.

The Frontex director will also present a strategy for “breaking out” the skills of the forthcoming 1500-strong “flying squad” of rapid reaction guards that EU member states will collectively make available to the agency, starting in December.

“We will need different skills for different missions such as screening, debriefing, surveillance, etc. Knowing what those are in advance and who has them will be a step forward in terms of lesson learnt compared to when we requested 775 seconded officials in September 2015 [at the height of the EU’s migration crisis] and could hardly get half of that,” observed Leggeri. Frontex will also send liaison officers to the member states to collect data, including personal data on migrants and others that will be shared with Europol.

Meanwhile Frontex itself is set to grow quickly. Compared to a budget of EUR 142 million in 2015, it will have spent EUR 250 million in 2016 and will get EUR 320 million in 2017, increasing thereafter in regular increments until 2020. Over the same period, its headquarters will more than doubling to reach 1000 employees.

     THE UPSHOT: The acid test, of course, will be how promptly and properly a member state acts on its set of Frontex vulnerability assessment recommendations. If push comes to shove, there is a provision in the Frontex’s regulation to “escalate the situation to the political level” if a member state does not comply with a recommendation, as Leggeri put it. Whether political pressure (versus a Court of Justice ruling) would be enough to persuade a large member state such as France, Germany or Italy to strictly heed “Warsaw’s” admonitions seems doubtful.
     One urgent task for all the Schengen countries is to align their criteria for determining a migrant’s economic vs. asylum status. According to EASO, the EU’s European Asylum Support Office, there are significant differences between the member states in the ways they do this.
     “Divergence is the rule of the game,” as one senior Council official recently told SECURITY EUROPE.
     That needs correcting, and quickly, for its security implications.

About Brooks Tigner

Brooks Tigner is editor & chief policy analyst at SECURITY EUROPE. He can be reached at: bt@securityeurope.info

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