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Simon Busuttil MEP, Strasbourg/Brussels

The European Parliament sees the need to make Frontex less dependent on Member States The EU Border Guards that Frontex needs

by Simon Busuttil MEP, Rapporteur on FRONTEX Legislation, Strasbourg/Brussels

The Arab Spring and its effects on migratory flows in the Medi - terranean once again woke us up to the reality of how badly Europe needs a common approach in managing its external borders. Even before the events in Tunisia triggered off the Arab Spring in the first place and even long before the Schengen tensions manifested themselves between Italy and France, the European Parliament’s report on Frontex that I presented in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee had already clearly spelt out the kind of Frontex that Europe needs. It should have been obvious for all. But the removal of internal borders within the Schengen area rendered the external borders of EU Member States a matter of common concern and it made the need for an integrated management of external borders even more compelling.

Free movement with secured external borders With 42.672 km of external sea borders and 8.826 km of land borders, the Schengen free-movement area comprises 25 countries (including three non-EU states) enabling free internal travel for nearly half a billion people across the continent. The abolition of internal borders facilitated freedom of movement for citizens in an unprecedented manner. But it was evident that this zone of freedom of movement required a coordinated approach in securing external borders. And whereas external borders should remain open and efficient for bona fide travellers and for people who need protection, they must be closed for cross-border crime and for other illicit activities. This is where Frontex comes in. Set up in 2004, the agency has faced a rapidly changing scenario in migratory flows at the Union’s external borders over the past years. It has been active in several land, air and sea joint operations. But its effectiveness has not reached expected levels. There are a number of reasons why this was the case.

Frontex was too dependent on Member States One of the recurring problems was that Frontex was too dependent on Member States for the success of its missions. In particular it depended on them to “lend” their personnel and equipment for its missions. If they failed to live up to the pledges − and they invariably did − the missions failed or lacked effectiveness. Indeed, the participation of Member States in Frontex missions has been patchy and pledges for equipment low. Another problem was the lack of cooperation from third coun - tries. A mission in the proximity of a third country can hardly

Simon Busuttil MEP Simon Busuttil has been a Member of the European Parliament from Malta since 2004. A lawyer by profession, he specialised in European Affairs and has followed EU affairs since 1994. Before being elected to the European Parliament, he led the public communications campaign ahead of Malta’s referendum on EU membership and was a member of Malta’s negotiating group. As a MEP he leads the European People’s Party (EPP) in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee and covers issues that include the common European immigration and asylum policy.

be effective if that third country refuses to cooperate. Overall these shortcomings seriously hampered the efficiency and impact of the Agency. The European Parliament has always provided the necessary support to the Agency, notably through significant budget increases over the years.

The EP always supported the Agency Parliament has also repeatedly called for improvements in the Agency’s enabling legislation in order to address its shortcomings and improve its efficiency. Thus, when the European Commission put forward proposals to revamp the agency’s founding law in 2010, we welcomed it. We proceeded to prepare our own amendments to the law in order to reflect the Parliament’s expectations. We did so on the basis of several consultation meetings with the agency itself, with individual Member States, organisations representing migrants’ interests as well as with the Commission itself. The result was a report that put together more than 100 amendments to the law.

The EP’s main proposals and the state of play At the time of writing we are in the process of negotiating a compromise with the Council of Ministers, through the socalled trilogues. We are trying to reach a first reading agreement under the Hungarian Presidency because we understand the urgency of getting this law through. There are several new proposals on the table. I will here limit myself to mentioning the main issues which are being negotiated with Council. These are the following:

• European Border Guards First of all we want to give the agency the political visibility that it deserves. When national border guards from different

12 Member States participate in its missions, they are called by weird Euro-jargon such as “Frontex Joint Support Teams” or bizarrely “RABITS” which stands for “Rapid Border Intervention Teams”. Yet, during Frontex missions, national border guards are acting as EU border guards and we want to call them by that name so that everyone can understand their role. This is why we want a change in nomenclature to simplify matters and increase the visibility of the agency and its missions.

• Fundamental Rights There is no doubt that Frontex should fully respect fundamental rights when carrying out its duties, and the EP has supported the European Commission’s proposals in this regard. However we went further because we wanted to go beyond mere declarations of good intentions. We wanted a mechanism to monitor and ensure that human rights are truly respected. This is important because we have often heard sto - ries about treatment of people that raised concerns. This is why the European Parliament wants an advisory body or forum to be set up to monitor the respect of human rights and to scrutinise cases of possible breaches. We also want independent monitoring of certain Frontex operations such as return operations. And in the case of breaches of human rights we want Frontex missions or operations to be suspended or terminated.

• Data Processing There is a lot of sense in giving Frontex the capacity to process personal data obtained during its missions because this could help it use this data to play a greater role in combating crossborder crime and irregular migration. It is incredible that it did not have this power so far and as a result, it was never able to process and make use of personal data obtained during its missions. We want to give it the power to do so. At the same time, however, we want to provide for due safeguards that one expects in the interest of the protection of privacy. Thus, data should be processed for limited purposes and, not for whatev

News: EU Migration-Package

On 4 May 2011, the European Commission adopted a Communication on Migration, which covers various aspects of migration policy including elements for strengthened border control and Schengen governance. Several aspects of this Communication were criticised by the European Parliament. As a first follow-up, the Commission presented on 24 May a “migration package”, including a Communication on better management of migration flows from the Southern Mediterranean region.

Communication of 4 May: > http://tinyurl.com/66glr86 Communication of 24 May: > http://tinyurl.com/3tmqgyl er reason, such as when there are reasonable grounds to sus - pect involvement in cross-border criminal activities, in irregular migration activities or in human trafficking activities. There should be strict criteria on how this data should be handled and transmission of data to Europol is to be made on a “on a case by case basis”.

• Lease and Purchase of Equipment As previously stated one of the main problems that has Frontex constantly encountered was a lack of resources which was due to Member States not living up to their commitments when they pledge to lend equipment for use in Frontex missions. In order to make sure that this problem is addressed once and for all, we want the Agency to be able to equip itself by the means of purchasing or leasing its own equipment, at least for a minimum set of assets that are necessary for basis operations.The most cost-effective options must be preferred.

• Compulsory Solidarity As a corollary to previous point, Parliament wants the agency to finance the joint operations, rapid border intervention missions, pilot projects, the deployment of equipment and also return operations. At the same time, we would like Member States to guarantee the contribution of personnel for the European Border Guard System as well as their contribution of equipment. In other words, once a Member State has made a pledge to participate in missions, it should not be able to pull out of its own commitment. In this vein, we want Parliament to be regularly informed on what each Member State has committed to the agency’s pool of border guards and assets so that we can draw our political conclusions.

• Parliamentary Scrutiny The European Parliament is keen to ensure that EU agencies are fully accountable to elected representatives and therefore to taxpayers. Frontex is no exception and this is why we are insisting on increasing the scrutiny powers of Parliament in relation to the operations of the agency, such as its working arrangements with third countries and so on.

“More Europe” in the coordination of Member States Once these issues are settled I hope that we can proceed to an agreement with the Council. In this case the agreement would have to be approved by the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament and subsequently in plenary. I sincerely hope that the new legal changes are agreed and enter into force as soon as possible because we are all too aware of the need to provide a stronger response to the challenge of mi - gration and the management of the EU external borders. EU Member States need more Europe in coordinating their borders. And Europe needs a stronger Frontex agency that can get this job done.

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