The European Union’s new border and coast guard agency is developing migration ‘stress tests’, based on the system used to evaluate the resilience of banks to economic shocks, in a bid to stop future refugee crises in the passport-free Schengen zone.
The plans are at an early stage with Frontex – due to become the European Border and Coast Guard Agency by October this year – asking for volunteer countries to take part in an autumn pilot scheme.
It is one of several new powers and responsibilities that Frontex is receiving as the bloc struggles to cope with the refugee crisis.
They include bolstered staff and resources, a rapid reaction pool of 1,500 officers deployable within a week, and an enhanced role in returning migrants.
The pilot stress test scheme will be used to dry-run different methods that will ultimately be used in ‘vulnerability assessments’ of the borders of Schengen area countries.
“This is inspired by the management of the financial crisis in the Eurozone,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri yesterday (11 July) at a Brussels press conference.
“There is a need for the EU to prepare collectively to face a crisis based on different scenarios which are really likely to happen and to see how we can translate this into our business,” he said.
Leggeri said that the pilot would not be used to assess a given country’s vulnerability to the massive flows of irregular migration that has hit countries such as Greece and Italy – and seen borders controls back in Schengen.
“The intention is to test the system but not to assess the vulnerability of the member states who will volunteer to test it,” Leggeri said, “I have to guarantee that if a member state volunteers, the results will not be disclosed.”
euractiv.com understands that as yet no member states have come forward. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency is being created to better guard the external borders of Schengen area countries. Some non-Schengen countries, such as the UK, Denmark, and Ireland, have opt-outs from the plans.
The stress tests will allow the agency to assess weaknesses at borders. This could include factors such as geography, resources, training levels and contingency plans.
“The objective is to identify measures which member states will have to implement,” said Leggeri.
“There is a mechanism in the regulation [creating the new agency] which makes it possible for the EU to make these measures mandatory for member states but, in my view, cooperation is very important,” he added.
The new system will be backed by liaison officers appointed to member states. Any urgent situations that would threaten Schengen would be notified to the European Commission by the agency.
If no action is taken, the ‘nuclear option’ would be to refer a country to the Commission and European Council, which could decide to temporarily suspend Schengen in that country.
“This would be a last resort,” said Leggeri, who admitted that member states would have to voluntarily share information about the robustness of their borders.
“If this doesn’t happen the implementation of the vulnerability assessments will be slow.”
Banking and nuclear stress tests
An EU-wide stress test of banks has taken place every year since 2009, overseen by pan-EU regulators.
Different economic shocks are simulated to assess the strength of different bank to crisis situations. Banks that fail can, for example, be ordered to hold more capital against risk, and all the banks’ involved and their results are made public.
After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, risk and safety stress tests have been carried out on all EU nuclear power plants.
Returns and resources
The new agency will not have the power to decide which refugees are returned to their countries of origin. That power remains with the member states.
But the role of the agency in returns will be bolstered, as well its staff numbers.
“Instead of waiting for member states to organise flights, we will be able to charter flights on our own and there is a budget given to the agency to do so,” Leggeri said.
There is an increased €60 million budget for return flights this year. Four times as many flights were chartered this year than two years ago.
Last year the agency had a €140 million budget. It is €250 million this year and will be €330 million next.
Leggeri said that any returns would be fully in line with the “fundamental rights” of migrants.
The new agency has a complaint mechanism, allowing anyone to make complaints if they feel those rights are violated, he said.
“I have to say that we will recruit massively,” Leggeri added, “this is a huge challenge”.
Frontex headquarters in Warsaw has about 350 staff. The objective is to strengthen that by more than 220 by the end of next year, with a maximum of 600 staff members in place by the end of 2017.
The new agency has been criticised because it will be empowered to intervene in under-pressure countries, which has raised questions – downplayed by Brussels – over national sovereignty.