EU Expands its Border Force With 10,000-Member Standing Corps

File image courtesy Frontex

By The Maritime Executive 11-12-2019 04:22:00

The European Council has approved a European Commission proposal to take the recently-renamed European Border and Coast Guard Agency up to full scale. The 1,300-member outfit will now become a 10,000-strong standing force with a stronger mandate to enforce border and maritime regulations. 

“Today the European Union has achieved an ambitious task of transforming the EU border agency, Frontex, into a fully-fledged European Border and Coast Guard. This Agency will be equipped to offer tangible support to Member States to manage the EU's external border – wherever and whenever needed," said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos in a joint statement. "Its officers will be able to assist national border guards in conducting identity and document checks, with border surveillance and return operations."

The agency's assistance to member states will include collecting information necessary for issuing return decisions and identifying non-EU nationals who
have no right to stay, acquiring travel documents from non-EU countries, and organizing and financing return operations.

The agency will also be able to operate beyond the EU's borders. European Border and Coast Guard officers are already deployed in Albania and will soon have a presence in other Western Balkan countries as well. 

The timeline for recruiting and training calls for readiness for full deployment in 2021, with a gradual ramp-up to the full 10,000-servicemember force strength to follow. 

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency was established in 2016 to succeed Frontex, a smaller and less comprehensive border force that was intended to organize and coordinate voluntary contributions from national agencies. Both agencies' reliance on staff and equipment donated by EU member states has created persistent gaps affecting the efficiency of operations, according to the EC. 

In his 2018 State of the Union Address, EU president Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the Commission would reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard and equip it with a standing corps of 10,000 border guards and its own equipment, including vessels, planes and vehicles. The European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the Commission's proposal in March, and with the last step completed in the Council on Tuesday, both institutions have formally adopted the text.

Individual member states will still have oversight over all European Border and Coast Guard Agency operations within national borders. This includes the right to grant or withhold EU border agents' authority to conduct identity checks and grant or refuse entry at the external borders of each state's territory. The agency is explicitly not intended to infringe on member state sovereignty, displace member states' own border agencies or to unilaterally launch its own operations at member states' borders. National border forces will still greatly outnumber the newly enlarged EU agency: there are a combined 100,000 member state border agents EU-wide.