Membership in the European Union (EU) is associated with many conveniences. However, being part of the EU also means taking responsibility for securing its external borders. The undertaking of “securing the EU’s external borders” turns out to be a complex, dynamic and sometimes controversial task. The EU states are committed to a common border. Consequently, they also share the responsibility for its security. Article 3(2) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) therefore speaks of “appropriate measures with regard to external border controls”. But what exactly is meant by appropriate measures?
The external security of the EU border is a recurring topic of political debate and is frequently, intensively and controversially debated. Criticism of it is so widespread that it seems almost a political reflex to take a stand on it. But precisely because EU foreign policy is often used as a stirrup holder for political opinions of all kinds, it is advisable to take a sober and objective look at the legal situation and the measures arising from it. Such an undertaking seems particularly necessary because migration movements are at a comparable level to 2016. Compared to 2020, illegal border crossings increased by about 60 per cent in 2021. The half-year comparison in 2021/22 suggests an acceleration of this dynamic.
Joint responsibility for the external borders of the Schengen area has been established by treaty since the mid-1980s. However, this only became the focus of political debate with the refugee crisis in 2015, an event that gave rise to a large number of critical contributions to the discourse. Under the impression of media images of screen-filling queues, lifeless bodies floating in the Mediterranean Sea and border fences shooting out of the ground, the debate drifted into the populist realm. The European Parliament, for its part, reacted to this development by significantly accelerating the pace of reform on issues of external security.
The most prominent object of this dynamisation is the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). Even before 2015, there were efforts to expand its powers. However, the necessary support from the Commission did not materialise until October 2015. Frontex’s activities were expanded to the extent that it provided greater support to member states in migration management, the fight against cross-border crime, and search and rescue operations. In addition, Frontex has played a central role in the return of migrants to their countries of origin since then. In this context, the Council is free, on a proposal from the Commission, to call for the intervention of the Agency should one of two conditions be met. Intervention is considered appropriate if a Member State does not comply (within a set time limit) with a binding decision of the Management Board of the Agency to remedy weaknesses in its border management. In addition, an external border that is subject to specific and disproportionate pressures that jeopardise the functioning of the Schengen area may be grounds for Frontex intervention.
In November 2019, the agency was given a new mandate and its own resources and powers for the management of external borders. The means are intended to ensure that more effective implementation of returns and cooperation with third countries can be carried out efficiently. To this end, the agency can at any time draw on a permanent reserve of 10,000 border guards with executive powers. Furthermore, it was given a stronger mandate for returns.
Border management is also an important topic at the upcoming European Police Congress of Behörden Spiegel in Berlin. It will take place on 3 and 4 May in the hub27 of Messe Berlin. Dr Lars Gerdes, Deputy Executive Director for Returns and Operations at Frontex, is one of the confirmed speakers. Further information: www.european-police.eu