December 2, 2016
Written by Lina-Katerina Bikou, Content Officer.
From 2005 up until recently, the role of promoting and coordinating EU’s border management was up to Frontex. After the mass refugee influx and the terrorist attack in Paris in late 2015, the European Commission proposed in December the launching of a new agency, the European Border and Coast Guard, in order to meet today’s challenges. In a record time of only 9 months, the new agency was approved by both the European Parliament and the Council; it started its activities effectively on 6th October 2016 at Bulgaria’s external border with Turkey.
The tasks of the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG) include: the monitoring of migratory flows, monitoring EU’s external borders, carrying out risk analysis, providing technical and operational assistance to Member States, supporting search and rescue operations, supporting hot spots, improving the internal security of the member-states, and several other migration issues, in particular in return cases of third country nationals. In general, the EBCG’s role is to effectively manage migration, provide security and safeguard the free movement of people among the member-states. The question that arises is what differentiates this new agency from the older Frontex.
Frontex’s role to promote, coordinate and develop EU’s border management was not so successful. In fact Frontex had a limited role in supporting member-states in managing Europe’s external borders. The European Border and Coast Guard was built on the existing ground of Frontex’s remit. Based on this, the new agency cannot be considered by definition as “a milestone in the history of European border management”, as Dimitris Avramopoulos argued, but more likely as an expansion of the existing tasks and size of Frontex. Unfortunately, this new agency generates a number of concerns. First of all, the question that needs to be answered is how the new agency will be funded, considering it is estimated to cost €280 million? Secondly, what is its exact role and how far it can intervene in border affairs? Finally, how is it supposed to safeguard the Schengen Area when at the same time, member-states have the right to introduce temporary border controls on other member-state when they do not collaborate with the agency, thus potentially jeopardising the Schengen Area? From this perspective, the European Border and Coast Guard cannot be seen as a “silver bullet that can solve the Migration Crisis that the EU is facing today or fully restore trust in the Schengen Area” indeed, as Artis Pabriks declared.
The end of sovereignty? Not yet.
Despite the signs that the European Border and Coast guard is almost the same as Frontex, simply renamed, there were some who argued that the creation of the new agency signalled the end of member-states sovereignty, beginning with the EU leading Europe towards a more federal system of border management. The idea of the end of sovereignty and the agency’s right to intervene dominated the conversations around the creation of the EBCG but the negotiations failed. If the EBCG had the right to intervene, the agency could have been empowered to enter any Member State, even if it was against its government’s wish. The idea presented the spectre of the surrender of member-state sovereignty to the EU; this triggered long lasting discussions over this point and therefore the idea was finally abandoned as unrealistic. Without this authority then, it is clear the new agency will be little different from its predecessor and the expectations should not be high.
Common external borders
If there are any lessons to be learned, they are that most member-states are unwilling to promote any interest other than their own national interest and worst of all, their unwillingness even in times of crisis to work together with the same agency and a common cause. The fact the EBCG will have little more power and authority than the already insufficient Frontex, because the member-states were unwilling to agree on expanding its remit and strengthening its authority, demonstrates this. At the end of the day, member-states need to realise that EU’s external borders are their own external borders equally and that solidarity, close cooperation and joint political will are the only tools in order for EU member-states not only to remain safe and secure, but also in order for them to prosper.