Publications

10,000 border guards for Frontex: Why the EU risks conflated expectations

21 September 2018
Irina Angelescu (Independent consultant) and Florian Trauner (Research Professor, Institute for European Studies, VUB)


The European Commission’s recent proposal for 10,000 new border guards for Frontex has sparked intense discussions about what kind of border management the EU and its member states want. As the debate continues, a few practical and political considerations should be taken into account: 

  • From a governance perspective, the Commission’s approach seeks to strike a delicate balance between a functional need for a more centralised EU border control regime and national prerogatives for sovereignty. The proposal may, however, tilt the scale in favour of the Commission, whose proposal limits the extent to which member states could refuse Frontex to get engaged in an emergency situation.
  • In terms of accountability, Frontex already operates in a field with high stakes concerning human rights and civil liberties. Any additional transfer of powers to this EU agency could raise concerns about potential breaches of human rights. Accountability would become even more important if Frontex were granted a greater role in the creation and management of the ‘disembarkation centres' in third countries.
  • On the political front, calls for more stringent border controls are often a way of expressing a preference for fewer migrant arrivals in the EU, notably from asylum seekers. However, a more powerful Frontex agency will not be the catch-all solution to reduce migratory pressures. Nor will it be the end of the polarisation of the migration debate in Europe.

The EU would be better served if it refused to view migration solely through the prism of border control. If the EU wants to regain credibility in the migration field, it needs to adopt a strategy that combines strong border controls and a strengthened Frontex with proactive support for states with migratory pressures and large refugee populations inside and outside the EU. A functioning asylum policy with a clear idea of how to distribute asylum seekers within Europe and contribute to international burden sharing will be an equally important element.

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