EU Finalizes Unified Border and Coast Guard

File image courtesy Frontex

Published Sep 14, 2016 9:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

The European Council has given the final approval to a plan to expand the bloc's existing Frontex border agency into a full European Border and Coast Guard. 

"The way we manage our external borders directly affects the entire Schengen area," said Robert Kali?ák, president of the Council, referring to the zone of free movement within the EU. "The European Border and Coast Guard will help us better face today's challenges together. Only with effective management of our external borders can we return to normality within Schengen. There is no other way." 

Among other roles, the new agency will be tasked with:

- helping establish a rapid reserve pool of at least 1500 border guards;
- coordinating support teams when a member state faces disproportionate migratory pressures at specific points on their external border;
- providing technical and operational assistance in support of search and rescue operations for persons in distress at sea during border surveillance operations;
- creating European Return Intervention Teams for the deportation of "illegally staying third country nationals."

It will begin initial operations on October 6 and roll out its new functions incrementally over several months.  

The Border and Coast Guard is a direct response to the millions of migrants entering the EU via Mediterranean sea routes, arriving from Libya and Turkey but originating in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria and elsewhere. Asylum claims in several EU nations exceeded one percent of the domestic population last year, making migration a growing political issue on the continent as localities seek to accommodate the influx.  

The migration issue played a key part in the successful referendum campaign in Britain to leave the EU, and has fueled what European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker describes as an "existential crisis" of nationalism and populism in member states. But migration and other external pressures may also lead to areas of stronger cooperation within the bloc: the Border and Coast Guard, already achieved, and the possibility of incremental moves towards an unified EU military, advocated by Juncker in a speech to the European Parliament Wednesday.