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March 13, 2016
March 13, 2016

European Border and Coast Guard: What is it and what does it aim at?

Author: Apostolis Fotiadis Translator: Sofia Tipaldou
Source: Enthemata  Category: Borders
This article is also available in: elesfr
European Border and Coast Guard: What is it and what does it aim at?

The creation of a new European Border and Coast Guard, which was discussed during the recent summit of the European Union, has been postponed for the near future, contrary to the Commission’s will to make an immediate decision. This is a good opportunity, thus, to discuss the Commission’s proposal. In the last days, a series of surprise tactics and persisting leaks have been deliberately used to create the right climate for the summit. Greece was labelled incapable of protecting EU’s external border. However, none of its critics has clarified what Greece is exactly accused of and what control of external borders exactly mean. Does it mean refoulment? Or maybe refusal of entry and illegal push-backs?

In this way, Greece was inevitably dragged into a defeat and was turned into an example that justifies the emergent launch of the new agency. Certainly, the truth is more complicated and has to do with the failure of EU’s leadership to design and apply a collective European response to the refugee crisis. However, Brussels and the large European countries know very well how to turn a crisis into an opportunity, as they have already shown during the years of austerity.

So, what is this new European Border and Coast Guard? Much more than what its name suggests. In theory, as it has been described, it is yet another step in the long-term process of militarisation of both the EU’s borders and its interior. In reality, the Commission seeks to establish close surveillance and the possibility of direct independent intervention to the mechanisms of external border control of member states, as well as to the institutions in charge of planning the implementation of the main axes of immigration policy. What is also introduced is a liaison between this new agency and selected member-states. This liaison will have constant access to information and the relevant systems of member states. In this way, it will be able to monitor the weaknesses in policy implementation and to initiate procedure of independent intervention of the new agency, whenever it deems necessary.

The agency will by staffed by 1,000 permanent personnel and another 1,500 additional operational personnel, retained and readily available by the member. The agency will also be able to use specific technical means, funded almost entirely (90%) by the new Internal Security Fund that has been running as part of EU’s current budget. In order to form a complete picture about this, one would need to have to all 28 national proposals for the Fund, which is very difficult. What we do know is that the Fund was created two years ago by the Commission for the procurement of security systems. The initial cost was set at €3.7 billion until 2020, but the Commission is now considering the possibility of increasing the existing capital following the urgent developments in the fields of terrorism and the refugee crisis. The equipment includes ground, sea, and air surveillance systems, systems for the registration of biometrical and personal data, etc. In fact, the equipment for the new agency has already been included in the budget.

It is of vital importance that the Commission is attempting to insert in this new structure the policies that it failed to initiate during the previous months. For instance, the new agency, which will be able to assume control of the border, will also be able to coordinate joint border control operations between European and third countries, bringing consultants from third countries or starting joint operations (between these countries) within the “European territory” or in the territory of third countries. This is an obvious attempt to indirectly re-introduce the idea of joint Greek-Turkish patrols and the FYROM observers that Frontex wanted to establish in Greece’s northern border – both proposals had not moved forward before. The Commission insists on these proposals because it considers the control of the European borders as a process that begins in the territory of third countries.

Another institution that we encounter in the Commission’s proposal is the creation of a platform between the European Maritime Safety Agency, the European Fisheries Control Agency, and the new Coast Guard, which offers new opportunities for joint surveillance and monitoring operations with drones in the Mediterranean. The data will be used for multiple purposes including, of course, the control of population flows. It is actually a different way of supplying directly the surveillance system EUROSUR, which the new agency will receive from Frontex as its central administrator.

In addition, a new department will be created for more effective returns. The new service will be able to organise returns in collaboration with member-states and will be able to take over the coordination of national infrastructures, if these are not efficient. There is also a provision for the improvement of the procedures for granting European travel documents that will be accepted by third countries, in order to minimise their bureaucratic obstacles for returns. This actually means that the agency will have the authority to impose the procedure and, thus, to determine a significant part of member-states’ immigration policy. This leads to the establishment of detention regimes, since those who are to be returned must be detained until then. Paradoxically, the proposal does not mention anything about this.

So, are there provisions for everything by the Commission? There is something that it has not foreseen or wanted to hide with the use of an elaborated technocratic verbalism: a detailed mechanism of accountability for the executives of new agency. Frontex did not even provide for such a mechanism; only now it is being created and includes the possibility of administrative enquiries. However, the Commission systematically avoids clarifying which law is going to apply for those working for the agency. Experience from previous international missions of the EU to third countries has shown that its representatives are enjoying formal or indirect immunity. Something similar may be applied in this case as well through an unprecedented control mechanism. The agency is not restricted by each member state’s bilateral relations with third countries and this can have serious political and legal implications. It is not entirely clear which will be the regulatory framework for the use of data collected through the operations. In many cases, the proposal includes other procedures such as drones, without having even created a regulatory framework for such flights.

This whole venture demands the introduction of important judicial and political novelties in the acquis communautaire, for which no preparation was made, to such an extent that the Commission resembles the ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’. It is a very sensitive issue. Let us only consider the fact that the Eurozone, which was being designed for almost eight years, turned out to be inadequate for dealing with the complex reality. How can a novelty of such political importance manage to avoid similar deficiencies when the entire political process around its creation has been diminished to a communication game which has lasted several weeks and which aims at the swift inclusion into the acquis.

Apostolis Fotiadis is a journalist (apostolisfotiadis.wordpress.com and twitter @Balkanizator). His book “Border Merchants” (2015) has been published by Potamos publishers.

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