EU beefs up border agency but questions remain

Sunday 16/10/2016
EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos (C) shakes hands with Frontex and European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG) officials at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint, at the Bulgaria-Turkey border, on October 6th.

London - Begun at the Kapitan An­dreevo crossing between Bulgaria and Turkey, the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG) is responsible for monitor­ing and controlling the European Union’s borders at a time when more economic migrants and refu­gees than ever before are seeking entry.
The EBCG will have more than double the staff and greater powers as Frontex — the agency previously responsible for EU border control — as the EU leadership moves to deal with the worst global refugee crisis since the end of the second world war.
The new agency, inaugurated October 6th, will include a rapid deployment force of 1,500 border guards and a technical equipment pool that can be sent to countries facing heavy migration flows with the aim of establishing a coher­ent system that enforces stronger controls on external borders while safeguarding freedom of move­ment within the European Union.
EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos hailed the EBCG as a “milestone” in European border management. “From now onward, the external EU border of one member state is the external border of all member states — both legally and operationally,” he said.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country holds the ro­tating EU presidency, said: “By launching the EBCG, we are creat­ing a new reality at our external borders… It will help us to get back to Schengen.”
Under the EBCG’s mandate, not only will it be able to quickly de­ploy border guards and equipment it can provide “operational assis­tance” to neighbouring countries. The agency will station liaison of­ficers in EU countries and will be able to carry out “vulnerability as­sessment” of members, providing assistance and advice to members regarding handling of border is­sues, which, if not met, could re­sult in punishment.
The EBCG will have a signifi­cantly larger budget than Frontex to help the agency meet its respon­sibilities. Frontex had a declared budget of $195 million for 2016. The EBCG budget for this year is esti­mated at $265 million, with this set to increase to $315 million in 2017 and reach $360 million by 2020.
“The new agency is stronger and better equipped to tackle migration and security challenges at Europe’s external borders. Its mandate has wider scope and new powers that will allow it to act effectively,” EBCG Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said.
While some analysts praised the new agency, questions remain over how the EBCG will differ signifi­cantly from Frontex, which strug­gled to deal with the crisis.
“It’s not clear whether Frontex was ever effective in terms of its explicit and formal goal. The EBCG doesn’t look to be anything differ­ent from Frontex. The only thing that is different is the number of of­ficials who will be at the direct dis­posal of the agency, otherwise it’s basically a revival of Frontex,” said Giacomo Orsini, a researcher at the University of Essex in England specialising in a study of European borders.
Following a refugee deal with Turkey, Italy has replaced Greece as the so-called front-line in the migration crisis, with hundreds of people trying to cross the Mediter­ranean from Libya on a daily ba­sis. About 700 migrants seeking to make the perilous Mediterranean crossing died over a three-day peri­od in May, exposing the dangers of the crossing. As of late July, 3,000 people had died attempting the crossing this year. That number is expected to reach 5,000 by the end of the year.
The EBCG is unlikely to be any more effective than previous EU attempts to monitor and control its maritime borders, said Orsini, who has carried out research at the Ital­ian island of Lampedusa, which is a major migrant destination.
“I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that in terms of effec­tiveness of border control at sea we are at zero,” he said. “All what you see is the maximum that can be done, despite the huge invest­ment. What you don’t see, the grey area, is happening south of Sicily where there are many Lampedu­sas that are not receiving the same media or political attention. These kinds of sea crossings cannot be controlled.”