Legal pathways for refugees to Europe: developments and challenges
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Frontex: a broader mandate, more resources and greater scope of action
As its forces are deployed for the first time in a third country, Frontex will be granted additional resources and a stronger operational mandate.
In June 2018, in its conclusions to the European Summit, the European Council mentioned the importance of the role played by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, in particular in the context of cooperation with third countries, and invited the European Commission to present legislative proposals for a “more effective and coherent European return policy”. The measures proposed in the form of a new regulation were approved by the European Council and Parliament in April.
A standing corps of 10,000 border guards will thus be deployed on land and at sea, initially through secondments of national staff and then gradually through the deployment of European statutory staff. These statutory staff will be able to be directly involved in operations and will be allowed to use force. The role of Frontex will be to support Member States on the ground and will also have a Rapid Reaction Force for emergency deployments. A budget of €1.3 billion has been allocated for this purpose over 2019-2020, and €11.3 billion will be allocated to the Agency for 2021-2027. With 5,000 operational staff by 2021, the standing corps should be fully operational by 2027. On this point, the President-Elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed her desire to see the permanent body being fully effective from 2024.
It will also have an increased capacity to act in third countries, in order, according to the Commission, to “enable more effectiv20e and better collective protection of shared borders and migratory flows”. The Agency has thus signed a cooperation agreement on border management with Albania, the first of its kind with a country that is not a member of the European Union. Under this agreement, which has been operational since 1 May 2019, the Agency can intervene on Albanian territory for the purpose of “combating illegal immigration”, in the event of “sudden changes in migratory flows” or “cross-border crime”. In the opinion of the German Federal Government, the first two months of the operation have been a “success”. Frontex is also working on similar agreements with Northern Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina and Montenegro, which are, according to the German authorities, in the process of being finalised.
For the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), strengthening the role and competences of Frontex raises issues of state sovereignty, efficiency, data protection and compliance with international humanitarian law: “The rapid increase in size and changing nature of Frontex, means questions remain as to whether the mechanisms are proportionate to the task of preventing, identifying and remedying potential human rights violations.”