EU Moves Toward Creation of Border and Coast Guard

File image courtesy EU Frontex

Published Jun 22, 2016 9:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday night, the EU took one step closer towards forming an integrated European Border and Coast Guard, an empowered version of the bloc's existing Frontex border agency. All 28 member states and the EU parliament reached tentative agreement on a border agency proposal from the European Commission. 

A strengthened Frontex is a cornerstone of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's policy objectives. In September, he said that "the other side of the coin to free movement is that we must work together more closely to manage our external borders. This is what our citizens expect. The Commission said it back in May, and I said it during my election campaign: We need to strengthen Frontex significantly and develop it into a fully operational European border and coast guard system." 

The Commission’s original proposal would have given it the authority to deploy a rapid response force from the new agency at its own initiative, but parliament has voted in favor of placing this control with the Council of member states. The agency will not have its own guards, and will draw on a 1,500-member “rapid reaction pool” of personnel seconded by the member states.

Speaking after the Tuesday meeting, Parliament’s lead negotiator on the regulation Artis Pabriks said that the agreement was an important step towards the goal of an EU-wide borders authority. “With this regulation we have made the European Border and Coast Guard Agency more effective, more efficient and more accountable. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so we introduced the concept that the security of EU external borders is a responsibility shared among all EU member states,” he said. “The European Border and Coast Guard Regulation will ensure that the EU external borders are safer and better managed. This is not a silver bullet that can solve the migration crisis that the EU is facing today or fully restore trust in the Schengen area, but it is very much needed first step."

This informal agreement between the European Parliament and the European Commission will still need to be approved with a parliamentary vote and by the member states. The Commission's hope is that a reinvigorated border force could provide the external security perimeter needed to lift temporary internal border controls between member countries – like the fence set up by Hungary – and to restore Schengen zone freedom of movement. Over one million migrants entered the EU last year, straining member nations' ability to provide services and giving new impetus to political attempts for members to exit the union - notably in Britain, which is set to vote on a controversial referendum on Thursday. The debate over the "Brexit" vote has been driven in part by the migration crisis.