EU commissioner Georg Garstenauer outlined this morning a draft on FRONTEX, a European border agency. Cooperation between all member states and a uniform level of security at the borders were emphasized.
The agency to be established should be a coordination hub for national border police within the European Union (EU). Garstenauer said that its aim will be “to fight terrorism, prevent illegal immigration and human trafficking.” The presentation was followed by opening statements of the leaders of the six parties currently represented in the European Parliament.
Garstenauer stressed that FRONTEX should not be established as an EU border police force but rather an institution that trains national
border guards and provides technical assistance to member states with a Schengen border. Garstenauer proposed an initial staff of thirty and two representatives of each Schengen country on the management board. Responsibility for operations should stay with national police.
Human rights in focus
In the following opening statements, human rights were a main concern. Herrero (ALDE) spoke of “human rights above all.” Doerig (Greens) in his first statement focussed on the right of refugees. “It’s not only about keeping people out [of Europe],” he said. Mechanisms to give refugees the opportunity to apply for asylum were necessary and should be integrated in the system. Socialists and Democrats (S&D) faction leader Antunovic proposed introducing the position of a Human Rights Officer external to the agency and with the responsibility of reporting back to EP. In internal discussions within the S&D, EPs discussed consultation with a UNHCR representative.
The Conservatives (ECR) also raised concern for sea tragedies in the Mediterranean. He asked for clarification of the rescue capabilities of the coast guard. Tocas (ECR) proposed giving support to North African countries toallow fewer migrants to reach the shores of Europe.
Budget and management
The budget allocated to FRONTEX was a further point of contention. While the EEP saw the initially planned thirty staff members as too high, the S&D said that the number was too low. During the general debate, one of the two main topics in discussion was the management board. In order to reduce the cost, it was proposed to lower the number of board members from twenty-eight to seven. How the board
members will be chosen is to be discussed. The need to add a clause to define “frontier countries” arose. Furthermore, the financial burden-sharing was hotly debated. While some factions argued for equal burden sharing, the Liberals stressed solidarity. Richer European countries should contribute more to the budget.
Further open questions
The Greens asked for clarification of responsibility for border operations. What “assistance” entails stayed unclear throughout the morning – Kulenovic (EFD) was “deeply concerned” about this issue. She
argued for the freedom to opt-in into FRONTEX. Only Kalouti from the Nordic Green Left (NGL), a three EMP faction, spoke against the proposal. “Closing borders is no solution,” she said. Kalouti was not open to questions. Discussions about the draft on FRONTEX are going to continue this afternoon.
by Benjamin and Lidia Zabala de la Fuente