Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Ninth Report

CHAPTER 3: integrated border management and a european border guard

Origin of the proposal

The implications of enlargement

19. During 2001 it became clear to the Member States that the external border control capabilities of the future new Member States would not meet EU/Schengen standards by the time of their accession in 2004, and that substantial help by the EU would be needed beyond that date as well as in the run-up to accession. It was decided that, although the new Member States would apply Schengen controls from the date of accession, their borders with existing Member States would remain in place until an evaluation by the existing Schengen States found that their controls met Schengen standards. The sum of €970 million[14] was allocated at the Copenhagen European Council to enable them to meet these standards as soon as possible.[15] Mr Diwell, the German State Secretary, estimated that this transitional period would last about two years ("maybe longer"), i.e. until 2006, which is when the enlarged version of the Schengen Information System ("SIS II") is due to be implemented.[16]

20. The implications of enlargement for the management of the EU's external border are very great. In the Mediterranean the EU's external border will be extended to Cyprus and Malta, but by far the most significant change will be at the EU's eastern frontier, where all the other applicant countries are situated. The EU's border there will be extended by 3000 kilometres[17] and the responsibility for controlling it will pass from the existing Member States to some of the new Member States—Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the three Baltic States.[18] Up to the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union their border guards had a very different role, since, as one of our witnesses put it, their borders with the Soviet bloc countries were policed by the authorities on the other side "trying to stop people coming out".[19] For many of these countries enlargement will, as the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) pointed out, require a reallocation of resources from their western to their eastern borders while maintaining their commitment at their western border during the transitional period.[20] We were told, however, by Colonel Kasiñski, the Deputy Commander in Chief of the Polish Border Guard, that the Polish authorities were not planning to relocate officers because of the cost and that about 70 per cent of their current officers would stay on the western and southern borders "doing other things".

21. There will be major changes for some of the existing Member States as well, especially Austria and Germany, whose long external land borders (except those with Switzerland) will become internal EU borders, with major implications for their border guard services. (Italy's external land border will also become an internal one.) However, the fact that a border becomes an internal Schengen border does not mean that no police activity will take place there. One of our witnesses from the German Border Police described the patrols routinely undertaken with the French Border Police along the German/French border.[21]

Preliminary studies

22. Member States' concerns about the implications of enlargement[22] coincided with more general concerns about external border security and their perception of its importance in combating illegal immigration, which were reinforced by the events of 11 September 2001. This led several Member States to support the idea of setting up a common European Border Police. The main arguments in favour of doing so were that it would provide an instrument of solidarity for sharing the burden of controlling external borders in the enlarged Union; allow for better use of personnel and technical resources as well as of available expertise; and at the same time mark a step forward for political integration. In October 2001 a group of countries under Italian leadership—Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain—undertook a feasibility study on a "European Border Police". The study was backed by the European Commission and financed on an 80 per cent basis under the EU Odysseus Programme. Other Member States, including the United Kingdom, agreed that more co-operation on external border issues was needed, but expressed reservations about the idea of creating a European Border Police force. In a separate initiative another group of countries—Austria, Belgium and Finland—organised a workshop on Police and Border Security in November 2001, which identified 12 areas to be developed within EU structures under the direction of the heads of Member States' Border Guards.[23]

Council and Commission views

23. In December 2001 the Laeken European Council arrived at a carefully worded compromise on co-operation on external border issues. It gave the Council and the European Commission a mandate to work out "arrangements for co-operation between services responsible for external border control and to examine the conditions in which a mechanism or common services to control external borders could be created".[24] The term "European Border Police" or "European Border Guard", although already used by some Member States' governments, did not appear in the mandate.

24. In response to the Laeken mandate the European Commission presented to the Council and the European Parliament on 7 May 2002 a Communication on the way "towards an integrated management of external borders"[25]. Based on an analysis of the main challenges at external borders and the current state of co-operation between Member States, the Communication proposed a gradual move towards a common management of external borders. It foresaw the main stages as being:

  • consolidation and codification of common rules and standards for external border controls;
  • the creation of an "External Borders Practitioners Common Unit" and various other co-operation mechanisms;
  • financial burden-sharing mechanisms; and—finally
  • a "European Corps of Border Guards".

25. With its more long-term approach to the creation of a European Border Guard the Commission had made an effort to satisfy both the advocates of such a project and the sceptics, placing a lot of emphasis on the practical progress which could be achieved in various fields in the meantime. As all the Member States could find much in the Communication which they were able to support, its reception was broadly positive, although several Member States rejected the Commission's view that integrated border management should ultimately lead to the creation of a Corps of European Border Guards.

26. In May 2002 the results of the Italian-led feasibility study on the creation of a European Border Police was presented at a Ministerial Conference in Rome under the auspices of the Spanish Presidency.[26] The feasibility study did not come out clearly for or against the creation of a European Border Guard. It advocated instead a complex network of national border police forces, which would be linked by a number of important common elements such as special "centres" as "knots" of the network, common units for special tasks, a common risk analysis and financing mechanism and a common curriculum. The study was filled with detailed operational and organisational assessments and some more abstract arguments but it was lacking in clarity and forceful central ideas.

27. In the meantime the Council had come under pressure to act. In the run-up to the Seville European Council, where illegal immigration and the problem of policing maritime borders were due to be high on the agenda, the Prime Minister wrote to the Spanish Prime Minister calling, among other things, for Seville to give "a remit for urgent action to strengthen the EU's borders";[27] and the President of the Commission wrote calling for the development of the concept of "an integrated and comprehensive 'border strategy'".[28]

The June 2002 Action Plan

28. Spurred on by these initiatives the Council agreed in June 2002 on a "Plan for the management of the external borders of the Member States", which took up most of the analysis and the proposals in the Commission Communication, and added some of the elements of the Italian led feasibility study (such as the idea of creating a network structure).[29] The Council Action Plan differs from the Commission Communication mainly in placing less emphasis on common legislation and financing and in referring only in rather vague terms to a later "possible decision" on the setting up of a European Corps of Border Guards, which would support but not replace national border police forces.[30] Yet it leaves the door open for the eventual development of such a Corps and provides for a very broad range of measures on:

  • common operational co-ordination and co-operation mechanisms
  • common integrated risk analysis
  • personnel and inter-operational equipment
  • a common body of legislation
  • burden-sharing between the Member States and the Union.

29. Most of these measures are subject to precise deadlines. Several are quite ambitious and clearly go some way in the direction of the gradual establishment of a European Border Guard. This applies, in particular, to the envisaged creation—within five years—of "common units" at particularly sensitive land and sea borders, in the context of which border guard officers of other Member States could be vested with the competence to control persons and conduct joint patrols together with national officers.[31] Yet the Action Plan leaves the Member States a lot of options for the implementation of these measures and does not commit them firmly to any particular model of integrated border management in the future.

30. At its meeting on 21 and 22 June 2002 the plan was "applauded" by the Seville European Council, whose conclusions also referred to "the intention expressed by the Commission of continuing to examine the advisability of such a [European] police force."[32] Thus it remained unclear whether the long-term aim was to establish an operational force or whether "integrated border management" would stop short of that. [33] The plan was also approved by the European Parliament in December 2002 on the basis of a report by the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs.[34]

14   £674 million. Back

15   Q 16. Back

16   Q 27. Back

17   p 37. Back

18   The Czech Republic and Slovenia will not have an external land border. Back

19   Mr Faull, Q 186. Back

20   p 94. Back

21   Q 29. Back

22   In their evidence to us the Home Office identified a number of key concerns, including migration pressure on the external borders of the Accession States, the difficulty of policing "green borders", the activities of organised crime groups, and the risks of corruption (p 37). Back

23   p 1. Back

24   Paragraph 42 of the Conclusions. Back

25   COM(2002) 233 final. Back

26   Feasibility study for the setting up of a "European Border Police", Final Report, Rome, May 2002. Back

27   Letter of 16 May 2002. Back

28   Letter of 3 June 2002. Back

29   Council document 10019/02, 14 June 2002. Back

30   Paragraphs 118-120 of the Action Plan. Back

31   Paragraphs 91-94 of the Action Plan. Back

32   Paragraph 31. Back

33   Mr Järviö told us that at Seville the Finnish and Swedish Prime Ministers had blocked an attempt to go further in the direction of a common border service (p 2, Q 14). Finland had also pressed for the conclusions to refer to a "European Border Police system", but its view had not prevailed (p 3). Back

34   A5-0449/2002, PE 319.234. Back

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