European Border and Coast Guard Agency
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex (from French: Frontières extérieures for "external borders"), is an agency of the European Union headquartered in Warsaw, Poland, tasked with border control of the European Schengen Area, in coordination with the border and coast guards of Schengen Area member states.
The Warsaw Spire, housing Frontex's headquarters
|Formed||3 October 2005 (original)|
6 October 2016 (as European Border and Coast Guard Agency)
1,000 (2021, proposed)
10,000 (2024/2027, proposed)
|Annual budget||€ 420.6 million (2020)|
Frontex was established in 2004 as the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders and is primarily responsible for coordinating border control efforts. In response to the European migrant crisis of 2015–2016, the European Commission proposed on 15 December 2015 to extend Frontex's mandate and to transform it into a fully-fledged European Border and Coast Guard Agency. On 18 December 2015, the European Council roundly supported the proposal, and after a vote by the European Parliament, the European Border and Coast Guard was officially launched on 6 October 2016 at the Bulgarian external border with Turkey.
To enable the agency to carry out its tasks, its budget would be gradually increased from the €143 million originally planned for 2015 up to €238 million in 2016, €281 million in 2017, and will reach €322 million (about US$350 million) in 2020. The staff of the agency would gradually increase from 402 members in 2016 to 1,000 by 2020.
2005–2016: European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union
Frontex, then officially the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, was established by Council of Regulation (EC) 2007/2004. It began work on 3 October 2005 and was the first EU agency to be based in one of the new EU member states from 2004. Frontex' mission is to help European Union member states implement EU rules on external border controls and to coordinate cooperation between member states in external border management. While it remains the task of each member state to control its own borders, Frontex is vested to ensure that they all do so with the same high standard of efficiency. The agency's main tasks according to the Council Regulation are:
- coordinate cooperation between member states in external border management.
- assisting member states in training of national border guards.
- carrying out risk analyses.
- following research relevant for the control and surveillance of external borders.
- helping member states requiring technical and operational assistance at external borders.
- providing member states with the necessary support in organising joint return operations.
The institution was centrally and hierarchically organised with a management board, consisting of one person of each member state as well as two members of the commission. The member states representatives are operational heads of national security services concerned with border guard management. Frontex also has representatives from and works closely with Europol and Interpol. The Management Board is the leading component of the agency, controlling the personal, financial, and organisational structure, as well as initiating operative tasks in annual work programmes. Additionally, the Board appoints the Executive Director. The first Director was Ilkka Laitinen.
According to its third amended Budget 2015, the agency had in that year 336 employees. Additionally, the agency could make use of 78 employees which had been seconded from the member states. The dependency of the organisation on staff secondments has been identified by external auditors as a risk, since valuable experience may be lost when such staff leave the organisation and return to their permanent jobs.
Special European Border Forces of rapidly deployable border guards, called Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) who are armed and patrol cross-country land borders, were created by EU interior ministers in April 2007 to assist in border control, particularly on Europe's southern coastlines. Frontex's European Patron Network began work in the Canary Islands in May 2007 and armed border force officers were deployed to the Greece–Turkey border in October 2010.
2016–present: European Border and Coast Guard Agency
The Commission was prompted to take swift action due to the immigration crisis of 2015, which brought to the forefront the need to improve the security of the external borders of the union. This crisis has also demonstrated that Frontex, which had a limited mandate in supporting the Member States to secure their external borders, had insufficient staff and equipment, and lacked the authority to conduct border management operations and search-and-rescue efforts.
The new Agency was proposed by the European Commission on 15 December 2015 to strengthen Frontex, widely seen as being ineffective in the wake of the European migrant crisis. Support for the proposal has come from France and Germany, with Poland and Hungary expressing opposition to the plan, concerned by the perceived loss of sovereignty.
The limitations of the former EU border agency, Frontex, hindered its ability to effectively address and remedy the situation created by the refugee crisis: it relied on the voluntary contributions by Member States as regards resources, it did not have its own operational staff and it did not have an explicit mandate to conduct search and rescue operations. The enhanced Agency will be strengthened and reinforced to address all these issues. The legal grounds for the proposal are article 77, paragraph 2(b) and (d), and article 79, paragraph 2 (c), of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Article 77 grants competence to the EU to adopt legislation on a "gradual introduction of an integrated management system for external borders," and article 79 authorizes the EU to enact legislation concerning the repatriation of third-country nationals residing illegally within the EU.
On 18 December 2015, the European Council roundly supported the proposal, which was then be subjected to the ordinary legislative procedure. The Border and Coast Guard was officially launched on 6 October 2016 at the Bulgarian external border with Turkey.
On 4 December 2019, a regulation amending the mandate of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Regulation 2019/1896) entered into force. The revised regulation gave the Agency a broader mandate by extending its powers in the following five areas: standing corps, EUROSUR, return operations, antenna offices, and extended cooperation with the third countries. Ever since Frontex was transformed into the Agency in 2016, the broader mandate has been deemed controversial, and the issue of whether the EU or the member state were competent in border management has also been a matter of debate. While announcing the future of Frontex during his State of the Union speech in 2015, the then European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for "a more efficient" border management and stated that "there is not enough Europe in this Union and there is not enough union in this Union." Although the member states still retain the primary responsibility for border management, the Agency now has a broader mandate to initiate its own operations. Hence, with the growing executive powers of the Agency, the EU has a stronger role in the issue of border management. However, concerns regarding human rights violations are still being voiced, in particular, due to the broader executive powers of the Agency under the revised regulation.
According to the European Commission the European Border and Coast Guard "will bring together a European Border and Coast Guard Agency built from Frontex and the Member States’ authorities responsible for border management" with day-to-day management of external border regions remaining the responsibility of member states. It is intended that the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency will act in a supporting role for members in need of assistance, as well as to coordinate overall border management of Europe's external borders. Securing and patrolling of the external borders of the European Union (EU, in practice the Schengen Area including the Schengen Associated Countries as well as those EU Member States which have not yet joined the Schengen Area but are bound to do so) is a shared responsibility of the Agency and the national authorities.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency is not a new body. It does not replace Frontex and it retains the same legal personality. What the Commission draft Regulation aims to do is to strengthen the mandate of the EU border agency, to increase its competences and to better equip it to carry out its operational activities. The new tasks and responsibilities of the Agency need to be reflected by its new name.
The permanent staff of the Agency will be more than doubled between 2015 and 2020. The new proposal provides for a reserve of European border guards and technical equipment. The Agency will be able to purchase its own flagged vehicles. The Member States where this equipment is registered (bigger equipment such as patrol vessels, air crafts, etc.) will be obliged to put it at the Agency's disposal whenever needed. This will make it possible for the Agency to rapidly deploy the necessary technical equipment in border operations. A rapid reserve pool of border guards and a technical equipment pool will be put at the disposal of the agency, intending to remove the shortages of staff and equipment for the Agency's operations.
Monitoring and risk analysis
A monitoring and risk analysis centre will be established, with the authorisation to carry out risk analysis and to monitor the flows towards and within the EU. The risk analysis includes cross-border crime and terrorism, process personal data of persons suspected to be involved in acts of terrorism and cooperate with other Union agencies and international organisations on the prevention of terrorism. A mandatory vulnerability assessments of the capacities of the Member States to face current or upcoming challenges at their external borders will be established.
The Agency is able to launch joint operations, including the use of drones when necessary. The European Space Agency's earth observation system Copernicus provides the new Agency with almost real time satellite surveillance capabilities alongside the current Eurosur border surveillance system.
Working with and in third countries
The Agency has a new mandate to send liaison officers and launch joint operations with neighbouring third countries, including operating on their territory.
Repatriation of illegal immigrants
The Border and Coast Guard has a supportive capacity to repatriate immigrants residing illegally in the union and is responsible for the coordination of return operations. The decision about who should be returned is always taken by the judicial or administrative authorities of the Member States. The merits of return decisions remain the exclusive responsibility of the Member State, with the appeal against this return decision having to be taken through the respective Member State.
Budget and staff
|Year||Budget (€ m)||Staff|
Risk analysis reports
Frontex regularly releases reports analyzing events related to border control, irregular border crossing and different forms of cross-border crime. The general task of assessing these risks has been laid out in Frontex founding regulation, according to which the agency shall "carry out risk analyses [...] in order to provide the Community and the Member States with adequate information to allow for appropriate measures to be taken or to tackle identified threats and risks with a view to improving the integrated management of external borders". Frontex's key institution with respect to intelligence and risk assessment is its Risk Analysis Unit (RAU) and the Frontex Risk Analysis Network (FRAN), via which the Frontex staff is cooperating with security experts from the Member States.
The latest FRAN report as of 2013 stated that 24 805 illegal border-crossing were detected. In the Eastern Mediterranean area specifically at the land border between Greece and Turkey, illegal border-crossings were down by nearly 70% compared to the second quarter of 2012, but up in the Central Mediterranean route.
"Joint Operation Hermes" began on 20 February 2011, after Italy asked for Frontex surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and North Africa, the southern border of the EU being in the Sea. The Libyan no-fly zone came into effect subsequently, and combat operations started on 20 March 2011.
The Netherlands has a Coast Guard Dornier 228 aircraft with air force crew and Portugal, an air force C-295MPA, stationed at Malta and Pantelleria. The number of observed shiploads of people intending to illegally enter into the EU through this sector increased from 1,124 in the first quarter of 2013 to 5,311 in the second quarter of 2013.
African and other would-be illegal immigrants continue to set sail for Italian shores aboard unseaworthy boats and ships. Several of these attempts have ended with capsized boats and hundreds of people drowning in the sea, though the Italian navy has saved thousands of lives in its Operation Mare Nostrum.[relevant?]
Operation Triton is a border security operation conducted by Frontex, the European Union's border security agency. The operation, under Italian control, began on 1 November 2014 and involves voluntary contributions from 15 other European nations (both EU member states and non-members). Current voluntary contributors to Operation Triton are Croatia, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Malta and the United Kingdom. The operation was undertaken after Italy ended Operation Mare Nostrum, which had become too costly for a single country to fund; it was costing the Italian government €9 million per month for an operation that lasted 12 months. The Italian government had requested additional funds from the other EU member states but they did not offer the requested support.
"Joint Operation Triton" is under Italian control and focuses on border security within 30 nautical miles of the Italian shore. It began on 1 November 2014 and involves 15 other European nations volunteering services, both EU member states and non-members. As of 2015[update] voluntary contributors are Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Malta and the United Kingdom. The operation's assets consist of two surveillance aircraft, three ships and seven teams of staff who gather intelligence and conduct screening and process identification. In 2014, its budget was estimated at €2.9 million per month.
After the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks, in which about 800 refugees died, EU ministers proposed on 20 April 2015, to double the size of Operation Triton and to widen its mandate to conduct search and rescue operations across the Mediterranean Sea. Fabrice Leggeri, the head of Frontex, dismissed turning Triton into a search and rescue operation, saying it would "support and fuel the business of traffickers". Instead he recommended to expand air surveillance of the Maltese waters "anticipate more disasters.
On 12 December 2015 it was reported that a newly founded asylum seeker reception center in Moria, Lesbos, Greece was coordinated, controlled and monitored by Frontex. In this center, in prison-like conditions, the asylum seekers were reported to undergo swift detention about their status for the purposes of registration. Independent journalists were reported to have had limited access to the facilities. While the reception center is not in the position to grant refugee status, it was reported that some asylum seekers could be held in the reception camp indefinitely.
"Joint Operation Poseidon" began on 2006, after Greece asked for surveillance by Frontex of the country's sea and land borders between the EU-member Greece and Turkey. The Joint Operation is divided into two branches, the Poseidon Sea Operation which oversees the sea borders of the EU with Turkey in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, and the Poseidon Land Operation which oversees the southeastern land border of the EU with Turkey on the Evros river. The operation turned permanent and has been expanded subsequently on the year 2011. In 2015 this operation was replaced by Poseidon Rapid Intervention.
Alleged Turkish airspace violations
In September 2009, a Turkish military radar issued a warning to a Latvian helicopter patrolling in the eastern Aegean—part of the EU's Frontex programme to combat illegal immigration—to leave the area. The Turkish General Staff reported that the Latvian Frontex aircraft had violated Turkish airspace west of Didim. According to a Hellenic Air Force announcement, the incident occurred as the Frontex helicopter—identified as an Italian-made Agusta A109—was patrolling in Greek airspace near the small isle of Farmakonisi, which lies on a favourite route used by migrant smugglers ferrying migrants into Greece and the EU from the opposite Turkish coastline. Frontex officials stated that they simply ignored the Turkish warnings as they were not in Turkish airspace and continued their duties. Frontex later took photographs of the Turkish Coast Guard escorting illegal immigrants towards Greek waters and the photos accompanied by written evidence were submitted to EU authorities.
Another incident took place in October 2009 in the airspace above the eastern Aegean sea, off the island of Lesbos.[better source needed] On 20 November 2009, the Turkish General Staff issued a press note alleging that an Estonian Border Guard aircraft Let L-410 UVP taking off from Kos on a Frontex mission had violated Turkish airspace west of Söke.
2020 & 21 OLAF Raid & EU Ombudsman Investigation
On 7 December 2020, the EU's anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF, raided the offices of Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri, as well as his head of Cabinet Thibauld de La Haye Jousselin as part of an investigation into allegations of staff harassment, misconduct and migrant pushbacks. According to an internal document seen by the Greek Newspaper Ekathimerini, Leggeri “actively resisted” the recruitment of the required 40 fundamental rights officers provided for in the regulation of the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency, answering frequent questions from agency staff in early 2020 that “it is not a priority.” The story also accuses Leggeri of being in charge of a “comically incompetent” human resources department that formally offered jobs to large numbers of Standing Corps personnel and then withdrew them the next day. The Ekathimerini story also quotes an EU document that alleges Frontex's Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri “actively resisted” the recruitment of the required 40 fundamental rights officers required in the regulation of the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency, answering frequent questions from agency staff in early 2020 that “it is not a priority” and “repeatedly made it clear to staff” that “Frontex is not an expensive lifeguard service.” Frontex operations staff were made to understand that “reporting pushbacks involving Frontex personnel is not a route to popularity or promotion” within the agency. The paper also reported that no provision had yet been made for the new border guard "Standing Corps" to carry firearms legally over EU borders. In January 2021, EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson called for the EU ombudsman to open an inquiry.
According to the UK's Financial Times, on 12 January 2021, the EU's "embattled border and coastguard agency", was ridiculed for tweeting a 77-second short film celebrating its new uniforms on the same day that the bloc's anti-fraud office, OLAF, confirmed it would investigate the agency.
Covering up migrant pushback in Greece
In 2020, ships of Frontex were complicit in so-called illegal "pushbacks" of migrants attempting to reach mainland Europe via Greek waters. In such pushbacks, which is illegal under international law, migrants already in European waters are sent back to areas outside the borders of the European Union.
Frontex's involvement in these illegal practices follows from an analysis of open source sources, leaked documents, imagery and conversations with both migrants and Frontex staff conducted by a journalistic research collective involving Bellingcat and Der Spiegel, among others.
2021 "Hiring Chaos" and the Frontex “Potemkin Corps”
In early 2021, reports emerged in the media of serious recruitment and HR issues at Frontex. At least one report spoke of a “comically incompetent” HR department at the agency. Reported problems included first-person accounts of offers for the Standing Corps being made and then withdrawn the following day; recruits being brought to Poland for training only to be told they had failed a medical test the previous month and then abandoned; inadequate provisions made for COVID protection during training; and nonexistent communication with new staff about key practical issues. These issues, combined with the fact that the Standing Corps cannot be armed under current regulations because the agency's new 2019 mandate did not include the necessary legal basis under which it can acquire, register, store and transport firearms, have led some to refer to the Standing Corps internally as a “Potemkin Corps”, i.e. something for show only.
In June 2021, former FRONTEX deputy director Gil Arias Fernández criticised the agency's recruitment process, stating that it had no safeguards in place to prevent infiltration by far-right extremists.
Misleading Parliament and Unregistered Meetings with Lobbyist
In February 2021, Frontex was accused of its staff meeting "with scores of unregistered lobbyists that represent the weapons, surveillance and biometrics industries". The investigation also indicated that Frontex misled the European Parliament. In 2018, the agency told MEPs in response to a question: “Frontex only met with registered lobbyists who are registered in the EU Transparency Register … no meetings were held in 2017.” But according to the documents obtained, Frontex “held at least four meetings with industry” that year, CEO wrote. “Of the 24 private bodies that participated in these meetings – mostly companies – over half (58 percent or 14 bodies) were not registered in the EU Transparency Register.” Overall, their research found that from 2017 to 2019, Frontex met with 138 private groups: 108 companies, 10 research centers or think tanks, 15 universities and one non-governmental organization. Human rights organizations were notably absent.
In an NGO Statement on International Protection presented at the UNHCR Standing Committee in 2008 a broad coalition of non-governmental organisations have expressed their concern, that much of the rescue work by Frontex is in fact incidental to a deterrence campaign so broad and, at times, so undiscriminating, that directly and through third countries – intentionally or not – asylum-seekers are being blocked from claiming protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
According to European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and British Refugee Council in written evidence submitted to the UK House of Lords inquiry, Frontex fails to demonstrate adequate consideration of international and European asylum and human rights law including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and EU law in respect of access to asylum and the prohibition of refoulement.
In addition ECRE and British Refugee Council have expressed a worry with the lack of clarity regarding Frontex accountability for ensuring compliance with international and EC legal obligations by Member States involved in Frontex coordinated operations. This is compounded by the lack of transparency, and the absence of independent monitoring and democratic accountability of the Agency.
Reports have surfaced of video footage of FRONTEX violating the law, by helping the Greek coast guard block and push back asylum-seekers and migrants who have reached Greek territorial waters instead of rescuing them, which is their obligation under EU laws and regulations.
European Border and Coast Guard
The European Border and Coast Guard is formed by the Frontex agency itself and by the border guards and coast guards of the Schengen Area member states. The national authorities will continue to exercise the day-to-day management of their sections of the external borders of the Schengen Area. They are:
- Schengen Area
- Common Security and Defence Policy
- Area of freedom, security and justice
- Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters
- European Asylum Curriculum
- Asylum in the European Union
- Schengen Agreement
- Global Monitoring for Environment and Security ('Copernicus Programme')
- External border of the European Union
- European Fisheries Control Agency
- European Maritime Safety Agency
- European Border Surveillance System
- European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation ('Europol')
- European Asylum Support Office
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- See Regulation (EU) 2016/1624 recital 11 ("...the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union should therefore be expanded. To reflect those changes, it should be renamed the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which will continue to be commonly referred to as Frontex. It should remain the same legal person, with full continuity in all its activities and procedures....") and article 6 ("The European Border and Coast Guard Agency shall be the new name for the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Members States of the European Union established by Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004. Its activities shall be based on this Regulation....")
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