Blog AnalysisBorders Immigration Asylum

Why, how do we want to create a corps of 10.000 border guards?

(B2 in Salzburg) The European Commission's proposal to strengthen the European border guard force, discussed today by the heads of state and government, meeting at a summit in Salzburg (Austria), has some people complaining. The criticisms are rife: it is an attack on the sovereignty of States (Hungary), it is useless (Czech Rep.), we are doing very well on our own (Spain), it is too ambitious - how can we find 10.000 people - , it will be expensive (Netherlands), etc. How to see clearly?

Joint control carried out by Frontex and Guardia Civil agents (credit: Frontex Agency)

Why do we need to reinforce the staff of the European Corps of Border Guards? Are the needs increasing?

During the migration crisis, the operational needs of the Agency to support frontline Member States have been multiplied by four » according to official figures. This even if the intensity of pressure at the external borders has decreased compared to 2015. We have thus gone from a deployment of 52.359 people/days in 2014 to a rate of 189.705 people/days in 2017. However, the existing system , which is based on reserves of volunteers, shows its limits. “ Most of the Agency's joint operations during the period 2015-2018 were seriously affected, rendering the Agency's support partially ineffective notes the Commission.

Why is the current system not working?

It relies too much on volunteers. Countries tend to offer personnel or equipment only for certain places or certain periods. " This leaves the Agency with limited leeway to quickly redeploy experts and/or resources to other operational regions. » There are recurring problems of under-commitments during certain months of intense activity (summer) and over-commitments in low season (winter). All this is “ problem », we admit to the Agency.

Are calls for personnel 'filled'?

No. The last annual force generation conference — where each country reports its voluntary commitments for 2018 — covered, for example, only half of the needs for activities at land borders: 49% of border guards, 45% of equipment. For maritime operations, there are fewer problems: 96% of manpower requirements are covered. But it is still a little insufficient in terms of resources (boats, planes, radios, etc.): needs are only 60% covered.

Why not resort to seconded staff on a longer term basis and not by mission?

This has been tried. But here too, the answer is not ideal. The seconded staff system remains voluntary. And he “ proved to be largely insufficient » whether in terms of predictability of commitment and flexibility of redeployment. The reason is simple, it is that most member countries do not play the game. Most staff are seconded only for the minimum period of three months and not for a year or more, as permitted by the rules.

Are the staff deployed by Member States effective?

Not really. The various feedbacks (RETEX) show this. Differences in training, lack of common operational culture, lack of language skills, etc. “ often hamper cooperation in the field ". NB: it's quite logical, there is no common training from one country to another, and the needs differ.

How many border guards are needed for current activities?

The Frontex agency estimates that a total of 5.000 border guards will be needed for the Agency's operational activities. For the Commission, in addition to filling the current gaps, it is therefore necessary to aim for a permanent body of 10.000 people, given the peaks in activity at certain times.

Will there be 10.000 permanent agents at Frontex?

No. This figure presented by the Commission is good, it is round with 4 zeros. But that does not mean that there will be 10.000 European agents at Frontex. The number of permanent agents would be 1500. And still progressive: this is the objective set until 2020. The rest comes from 8500 personnel, seconded long term or short term by the Member States, on specific operational request.

How many are available today?

This number of 10.000 does not come out of nowhere. The actual number of European Border and Coast Guard team members registered in the Agency's OPERA system is over 7000. To these must be added the 1500 border guards registered in the rapid reaction reserve and the approximately 700 persons specialized in return, drawn from three operational reserves (600 escort officers for return operations, 50 return specialists and 40 forced return monitors).

Will the Frontex agency be able to intervene without the agreement of the Member State?

Not really. Sovereignty remains preserved (contrary to what the Hungarian Viktor Orban claims everywhere). Most interventions respond to a request from a Member State. It is only in cases of emergency, and if the Member State remains deaf to all requests to make its border more watertight, such as accepting aid (basically if there is a 'hole in the border ') that the Commission (and no longer just the Council of the EU) will be able to take the initiative to set up an operation (1). But it will then be necessary to obtain the agreement of the Member State to establish the operation plan. So the capitals retain control of the system.

Why are we talking about an executive mandate given to Frontex agents?

It is a logical continuation of recruitment: we align the status of these permanent agents with the existing system. Currently, most personnel seconded by Member States as part of Frontex operations have an executive mandate. From the moment they are replaced by permanent European staff, it is logical to give them the same powers. A question of efficiency.

What is an executive mandate?

In fact, this involves European agents (or seconded from other Member States) being able to carry out certain missions in the territory of another Member State, being able to carry out checks, and carrying a weapon. An agent without this executive power… he’s a tourist.

Are there limits to this mandate?

Yes. Everything remains under control and under the legislation of the Member State concerned. European agents cannot decide alone to carry out border controls, to admit a person to the territory or to refuse them, without the agreement of the Member State concerned.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) This is just a suggestion. The Commission is, in fact, trying to recover a bit of power lost during the last negotiations on the establishment of the European border guard force. It is not said that this proposal will remain as it is. Because this principle does not seem acceptable for many countries. Today it is a decision of the Council which allows this implementation directly on European initiative. There is a good chance that it will stay that way if the negotiation is successful.

Read also: Frontex: how do we arrive at the figure of 10.000 people promised by the European Council

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).