France campaigns for EU border guards

Green MEPs on Frontex. Brussels, 2013. [greensefa/Flickr]

France wants to increase funding for Frontex, Europe’s border control agency, and ensure border guards. It will raise the issue in the European Council on Friday 27 June. EURACTIV France reports.

The French government campaigned for greater border security in the EU elections last month. It is now turning words into action by calling for enhanced security of the EU’s external borders. This is part of the French government’s detailed plan for the next Commission on Tuesday 24 June.

Francois Hollande believes that there should be a greater focus on the surveillance of “Schengen’s external borders by strictly applying the rules provided.” He was to restore Frontex funding, which fell in 2013.

Frontex had to tighten its belt last year due to EU budget cuts led by the Commission. The Warsaw-based institution saw its budget drop from €93 million to €89 million. This came as a surprise to many, given that illegal migration flows across the Mediterranean continue to grow and make headlines.

A range of operations to prevent and better manage illegal migrants were put in pace under the Task Force for the Mediterranean, but they are struggling to get off the ground.

Paris also wants to “advance Frontex missions with the objective of creating a European border guard”. This would help prevent and tackle illegal migration, the French plan says.

According to Elvire Fabry, senior researcher and expert in EU external action at the Notre Europe, Frontex is a key component of EU border control. She argues that the French plan to set up European border guards is a good idea and deserves further developing.

It would require greater cooperation between member states, EU agencies and third countries, but could reduce illegal migration flows to Europe. France proposes changing migration flows by working with third countries and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

France’s proposals clearly focus on Mediterranean migration. One measure includes a Mediterranean migration coordinator, who would report back to the European Council directly.

Lampedusa’s shadow remains

The issue of a more efficient and stronger Frontex has been present since the Lampedusa tragedy, which saw 300 migrants lose their lives trying to reach Europe. The lack of cohesion between EU member states and EU migration policies has also come under fire. It means Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Croatia have been left alone to tackle waves of illegal migration.

>> Read: Barroso met with boos and jeers on Lampedusa tour

Frontex relies heavily on financial contributions and operational support from member states. According to a report by the European agency, the number of detected illegal border crossings in the EU increased from 72,500 in 2012 to 107,000 in 2013. This represents an annual increase of 48%. Since the start of this year, almost 35,000 people crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe, compared to 43,000 for the whole of 2013, according to statistics from the UNHCR.

Elvire Fabry claims that more money would facilitate the sharing of information and putting in place “intelligent” borders to improve surveillance and control. EU member states have a tendency to put the responsibility of controlling migration on countries of origin and transit countries.

France and Italy in agreement

Elvire Fabry says “less exposed countries, such as those in North West Europe, must think Frontex has enough resources, but countries like Greece and Italy definitely believe they should be increased.”

Italy argues that priority must be given to strengthening EU migration policies and putting in place an effective European asylum policy. It wants Frontex to be bolstered both in terms of human resources and financing, and to be accompanied with a new cooperation system with third countries.

>>Read: Sannino: Italy will turn the perfect storm into the perfect rainbow

Fabry adds that the distribution of migrants is a concern, although she does not think the theme is to be raised at the Council. “Countries still want to maintain sovereignty over migration policies […] Illegal migration is also important in order to anticipate  Europe’s ageing population problem and as a way of dealing with labour shortages. “This is why the admission of migrants to EU member states is so important in the medium term.”

Greece wants to encourage legal migration because it could renew economic growth. According to the French Foreign affairs ministry, Greece suffers most in Europe from illegal migration. It is more affected than Italy for geographical reasons, but receives less media coverage. Hundreds of small islands surrounding the country make effective boarder control almost impossible.

Frontex is the European agency in charge of external EU borders operation management. Based in Warsaw, Poland, its main focus is border control, surveillance and security. Frontex's mission is to help member states to establish common rules on external borders and coordinate their external border management operations. Each member state is still responsible their own borders, even if they are external EU borders.

EUROSUR is a European cooperation system for border surveillance. It came into force on 2 December 2013 in 18 EU countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Finland as well as Norway, which is part of the Schengen area). Its goal is to control the external borders of the Schengen area and help member states that are in charge of land, maritime and sometimes aerial borders, as well as Frontex, to pool information on operations and improve cooperation.

  • 22-26 June 2014: European Council in Ypres, Belgium

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