(EP Study) The  proposal  for  a  European Border  and Coast  Guard: evolution  or  revolution  in  external border management?

THIS IS AN EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. (ACCESS TO THE FULL STUDY (40 pages) HERE)

by Dr. Jorrit Rijpma

The Commission proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard Authority brings together a reinforced (and renamed) Frontex – the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCGA) – and the Member States’ border guard authorities under the umbrella of a European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG), making them jointly responsible for the management of the external borders. The proposal defines for the first time the notion of European integrated border management. It significantly broadens the scope of the new Agency to include internal security and measures within the area of free movement. The proposal reinforces both Frontex’s regulatory and operational role. In addition, it gives the  Agency  a  supervisory  role,  placing  it  in  charge  of  Vulnerability  Assessments.

As such, the EBCG proposal is an important next step in the progressive Europeanisation of external border management. That said, the proposal is not a revolutionary leap forwards, as it preserves the fundamental premise that the Agency neither has its own border guards nor powers of command and control over national border guards.

Still, a proposal of this complexity, with substantial financial implications and an obvious impact on fundamental rights, deserves careful consideration.

The proposal does not address some key questions as regards accountability for operational activities at the external borders and is rather likely to add to the current unclear division of responsibilities. There is, moreover, a danger of placing unrealistic expectations on the Agency.

It seems contradictory that Member States would be willing to accept more binding obligations under this proposal, while nothing prevents them from furnishing the Agency with the necessary tools now. Likewise, it would be naïve to think that greater powers and a new name for Frontex might suddenly remedy structural   flaws in  some Member  States’ external  border  management   systems.

Although the current crisis may have exposed shortcomings in Frontex’s current legal framework, the proposal does not constitute a genuine emergency measure designed to tackle a short-term problem. Therefore, if this proposal is to stand the test of time as the regulatory framework for external border management, it is important to carefully consider the  structural   implications of  the  rules currently being  considered for  adoption.

With this in mind, this analysis highlights some of the central challenges in the new EBCG framework  and provides  some  recommendations  on  how these  might  be addressed.

Supervisory  role

The Agency’s supervisory role also entails drawing up Vulnerability Assessments to identify operational  weaknesses  in   external  border  management.   In  this  regard, it is  important  to:

– Clarify   the   relationship   between   the   Schengen   Evaluation   Mechanism   and   the Vulnerability  Assessment  model.

– Ensure  that  the   Agency’s  supervisory  role  does not  prejudice  working  relations in the field of operational cooperation.

– Introduce a fundamental rights component into  the  Assessments.

Regulatory  role

Under the proposal, Member States would be obliged to provide the Agency with relevant information  for its  risk  analysis.

– A more specific explanation of what constitutes relevant information could help to  clarify the  extent of this obligation.

– If the Agency were to be given access to European databases, this would have to be under strict conditions, taking into account relevant data protection legislation.

Operational  role

Availability of human  and  technical  resources

The proposal aims to remedy the current lack of human and technical resources. As such, in emergency situations, Member States would be required to provide border guards, with no possibility, as is currently the case, to invoke an emergency situation requiring their deployment at home. Similar, yet weaker provisions have been included as regards the obligation to make available technical equipment.

The Agency will be allowed to acquire its own  equipment.

In addition, the Commission proposal provides for a right to intervene where a Member State does not follow up on the recommendations from the Vulnerability Assessment or in a situation where insufficient external border controls would put the overall functioning of the Schengen area at risk. This latter provision has, however, been amended in the Council text, which provides for a similar mechanism for reinstatement of the internal borders as under article 26 of the  Schengen  Borders  Code.

– The unqualified obligation to make border guards available for rapid border  interventions and the ‘right to intervene’ under the Commission’s proposal arguably contravene the Member States’ ultimate responsibility for internal security  under the Treaties (Article  4(2) TEU and  Article  72 TFEU).

Expansion  of tasks  and  powers  of  guest  officers

Guest officers’ powers may be considerably broadened by the host Member State, allowing these officers to act on its behalf. Guest officers would also have automatic access to European  databases. The proposal  should:

– Clearly state that guest officers act at all times within the scope of EU law and hence  within the  scope of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

– Clearly state that, to the extent that national powers are delegated to guest officers, these officers should be considered to act as agents of the host Member State for the purpose of  determining  international responsibility.

 Hotspot  approach

The proposal gives the Agency a key role in the hotspot approach.

This is problematic as it seems to contradict the multi-agency purpose and nature of the hotspot approach, risking a one-sided focus on border control.

The Commission is thus much better placed to coordinate the activities  of  the Migration  Management  Support  Teams.

-The hotspot approach and its legal and operational framework require prior definition, preferably in a separate legal framework, before making the Agency responsible for its functioning.

– If the Agency were to take primary responsibility for the hotspots, a reference to international protection should be included in the concept of integrated border  management.

Return  cooperation

The Agency would gain significant operational powers in the area of return with three new on-call lists of Member State officials: forced return monitors, forced return experts and return specialists.

The proposal provides for three types of return operations: return from a combination of Member States organised and carried out by the Member States and coordinated by Frontex; collecting return operations where the means of transport and return escorts are made available by a third country; and mixed return operations, where a number  of returnees  are transported   from  one third  country  to  another.

There are a number of important concerns as regards the provisions on return that need to be  addressed.  It  is  important to:

– Detail the tasks, powers and responsibilities of these officials. Attention should be paid to the specific legal regime  applicable  on board aircrafts.

– Extend reporting obligations to return operations and include a role for the Agency’s Fundamental Rights  Officer.

– Allow for collecting return operations only if the third country concerned is a party to  the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

– Allow for mixed return operations only if there are sufficient guarantees that the            third country’s            return  decision           and            procedures      comply            with     EU fundamental rights standards.

Information  exchange  and  data  protection

The proposal would transform the Agency into the central hub of information exchange of the EBCG, expanding its powers to collect and transmit data not only on people suspected of cross-border crime, but on irregular third country nationals.

This requires sufficient data protection rules. As pointed out by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), the proposal   has important  flaws  in  this regard  and  requires  clarification.

The proposal  should:

– Clearly distinguish between the different purposes for which data is processed, because migration management and criminal law enforcement are covered by separate legal regimes.

– Exhaustively   list  the purposes for  which  data  may be processed.

– Indicate not only the categories of people whose data may be processed, but also specify which data may be processed.

– Clearly distinguish between the transfer of data to third parties within and outside the European  Union.

Operational  cooperation with  third  countries

The proposal would allow for joint operation activity on the territory of third countries. Cooperation with third countries should not allow the Agency and EU Member States to lower  EU  standards.

As  such:

– Cooperation should be limited to third countries that are party to the ECHR and

the Geneva Convention and  its Additional  Protocol.

– The safeguard whereby liaison officers may only be posted to countries with human  rights-compliant  border practices should be reintroduced.

Coastguard

The provisions on the role of the Agency and the Member States in a European Coast Guard are the least developed part of the proposal and are largely limited to an obligation to exchange information. It is therefore important to clarify the extent to which this may involve  the  processing of  personal  data.  Furthermore, it  is important:

– To clarify the relationship between the military and the Agency in maritime border surveillance operations       and      any      other Member            State    military involvement in integrated  border management.

– To include Search and Rescue provisions to allow the Agency to play a more active SAR role  without affecting the international SAR framework.

Constitutional   considerations

It is submitted that, under the current rules on delegation of powers to Union bodies, it is not possible to delegate genuine executive powers to the EBCGA.

The Commission proposal respects these limits. Nonetheless, the removal of the ‘emergency situation’ exception for the deployment of human and technical resources, as well as the ‘right to intervene’, are at odds with the Treaty principle of ultimate responsibility of the Member States for their own internal  security. Moreover:

– Careful consideration should be given to which decisions are politically sensitive and should be reserved for the Management Board and which are more  technical and  operational  and  should be left to  the Executive Director.

Fundamental  rights considerations

The significant reinforcement of the tasks of the Agency without the transfer of genuine executive powers to the Agency (for the reasons set out above), as well as the explicit affirmation of a shared responsibility for European integrated border management, will only exacerbate  the existing conundrum as  regards shared  accountability.

While the introduction of an individual complaints mechanism is an important positive development, the Commission’s assertion that the mere existence of such a mechanism makes the Agency’s actions fundamental rights-compliant is clearly exaggerated.

Indeed, the  proposed  fundamental   rights mechanisms require  further  refinement:

– The complaints procedure provisions must lay down rules on format, content and deadlines or should empower the  Agency to   set such rules.

– The Executive Director’s obligation to suspend or terminate operations in the event of fundamental rights violations should be further detailed and should provide for a role for the FRO and take into account the results of relevant monitoring mechanisms.

– The obligation for the Agency to set up a fundamental rights monitoring mechanism – with a broad review of fundamental rights at the external border – should  be  reintroduced.

– The FRO’s obligation to report to the Consultative Forum should be reintroduced.

Continue to the FULL STUDY

 

 

 

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