European Commission Proposes Independent EU Coast Guard

EU Frontex coast guard officer (Frontex)

Published Sep 12, 2018 8:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

In his final state of the union speech Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a plan to bolster the European Border and Coast Guard Service with a standing force of 10,000 personnel within two years. The proposal is seen as a response to the heated intra-European debate over migration, including the Italian government's decision to ban maritime migrants from Sicilian ports. 

The existing EU Border and Coast Guard Service has limited authority over the border forces of individual member nations, despite a 2016 upgrade in its powers. Reports suggest it has largely operated as a consultative and coordinating body. Under the new plan, the agency would have six times as many guards and a range of new abilities. According to an early draft reported by FT, these could include the use of force to police the EU's external borders; the ability to accelerate the "effective return of irregular migrants" to their home countries or to "disembarkation platforms" outside the EU; and the ability to operate in non-EU nations. These changes would require the approval of EU members states before taking effect.

The proposal released Wednesday does not include internal border checks, which were largely eliminated in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. Critics suggest that reinstituting internal borders to would be a significant step back from a unified European Union, comparable to instituting passport checks at state lines in the U.S. Juncker himself called borders "the worst invention ever made by politicians" in comments to media in 2016. 

However, proponents - notably anti-immigration political leaders like Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and German interior minister Horst Seehofer - see internal checks as an important measure to enforce immigration law until Europe can secure its external borders. Seven EU nations (including Austria) temporarily instituted border checks in 2016 in response to a wave of irregular migration, and Seehofer threatened to take the same action earlier this year.