Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Ninth Report

Recent developments

31. Ambiguity about the long-term aim continues in the draft Constitutional Treaty prepared by the Convention on the Future of Europe, which in proposing for the first time a specific Treaty base for the control of external borders provides for "the gradual introduction of an integrated management system for external borders."[35]

32. The European Council returned to the issue at Thesssaloniki in June 2003. It invited the Commission "to examine in due course, drawing on experience by the Common Unit activities, the necessity of creating new institutional mechanisms, including the possible creation of a Community operational structure, in order to enhance operational cooperation for the management of external borders."[36] This appears to be a reference to the possibility of an operational European Border Guard without actually using the term.

Implementation of the Commission Communication and Council Action Plan

The External Border Practitioners Common Unit

33. One of the recommendations in the Commission Communication was the establishment of a Common Unit of external borders practitioners, which was expected to develop from the Strategic Committee for Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum (SCIFA).[37] This recommendation was taken up in the Council Action Plan[38] and endorsed by the Seville European Council, which urged Member States to "introduce without delay, within the framework of the Council, the common unit for external border practitioners, composed of Member States' heads of border control, to coordinate the measures contained in the plan".[39]

34. The Danish Presidency proceeded with the creation of the Common Unit under the existing formation of SCIFA+, with the remit of initiating operational forms of joint co-operation, approving a series of plans for joint operations and pilot projects submitted by the Member States, and monitoring them. According to a Progress Report prepared by the Greek Presidency, between July 2002 and March 2003 SCIFA+ approved the initiation of 17 projects and set up a network of national contact points for the management of external borders.[40]

Joint operations at external borders

35. The main joint operations approved under these arrangements are shown in the Box below, together with a description of their objectives and a list of the participants. A further report was prepared by the Presidency in June 2003 on the implementation of all these programmes, which indicated mixed results in achieving their objectives.[41]

Name of Operation


Lead Member State

Other participants


(January and May 2003)

Sea border controls off the coasts of the northern Mediterranean and the Canary islands SpainFrance, Italy, Portugal, United Kingdom

Observers: Germany, Greece; Norway, Poland, Europol, the Commission


(March 2003)

Joint sea border controls in the South-eastern Mediterranean GreeceFrance, Italy, Spain.

Observers: Finland, Germany, United Kingdom; Cyprus, Malta

Prevention of illegal immigration, trans-border crime and illegal use of visas and documents issued to seamen by improving co-operation between border control authorities NorwayObservers: Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden; Estonia, Poland


(May 2003)

Improving border control systems and practices in designated ports in candidate countries SpainFinland, France, Germany

Future participants: Denmark, Portugal, United Kingdom; Norway,

RIO III: Operation VISA
Detecting the use of visas for illegal immigration at 22 designated airports DenmarkAll Member States; Iceland, Norway

Operation at the Eastern external land borders
Analysing the migratory pressure in the area and developing operational action GreeceFinland, Germany, Italy; Norway and six candidate countries

Project Deniz

(not yet in place)

Secondment of experts to Turkey to combat trafficking of illegal immigrants by sea United KingdomSeveral Member States have indicated an interest

Implementation of pilot projects

36. The Progress Report also describes a number of pilot projects. One of these is a project for a Common Integrated Risk Analysis Model (CIRAM), led by Finland with the aim of producing risk analyses used by the Practitioners Common Unit. The initial stage involved ten Member States (including the United Kingdom), Norway, the Commission and Europol. It has led to the establishment of a Risk Analysis Centre (RAC), which started work in Helsinki on 1 April 2003 to carry out common integrated risk assessments. The project is not currently open to candidate countries, whose participation will be considered after the first analyses have been completed. Another project with far-reaching implications is one designed to develop a Common Core Curriculum for Border Guard Training. It is led by Austria and Sweden, and all the Member States and the accession States take part, together with Iceland and Norway. Austria presented a report to SCIFA in April 2003 on this project.[42] [43]

Creation of ad hoc centres

37. The Presidency Report also refers to two major Centres. The Centre for Land Borders in Kehl (Germany) has a four-fold objective:

38. This will be achieved by conducting joint operations at the EU external borders, four of which have already been carried out, and organising the exchange of border guards at "focal point offices". The Centre is led by Germany. Eleven other Member States (including the United Kingdom) and Norway take part. Since 3 April 2003 the ten accession countries have been participating as observers. However, it has been found that the Schengen legal basis for the deployment of guest officers is not appropriate for these joint operations, which has limited their usefulness.

39. The other Centre is the Centre of Excellence—Dover. This project was intended to focus on co-operation in the field of search and detection technology, particularly for detecting people hidden in vehicles. A possible development from this work might be the creation of joint mobile units that can be deployed at high-risk borders. It is led by the United Kingdom, with eight other Member States and Poland taking part in the initial phase. However, the project has not yet got off the ground, due partly to differences of view as to whether it should be limited to exchange of information or should organise joint projects and partly to lack of funding. The United Kingdom has amended the project profile and now plans the use of detection technology in support of other approved projects, such as the Centre for Land Borders.

Recent developments: organisational structures for operational co-operation

40. The effectiveness of SCIFA+ has been questioned by the Commission on account of its large membership and wide agenda. In a recent Communication on the development of a common policy on illegal immigration and related matters,[44] the Commission called for "alternative institutional solutions" to the co-ordination and management of joint operations and pilot projects. It argued that a much more operational body should perform the daily operational management of these activities requiring a permanent and systematic activity.[45]

41. The Commission's recommendation was endorsed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 5-6 June, which adopted a number of conclusions on "a more effective management of the external borders".[46] It was agreed that:

  • operational co-operation should be taken forward by the heads of border guards meeting as "the Practitioners' Common Unit" (PCU) and not as part of SCIFA+.
  • the PCU would deal exclusively with operational issues and would hold separate sessions from SCIFA.
  • SCIFA would continue to be responsible for preparing the common strategy for the gradual introduction of an integrated border management.
  • the PCU, following a decision by SCIFA, would promote in due time the introduction of a common core curriculum for border guard training and would examine the possibilities for further developing common operational patterns in border management.

35   See paragraph 8. Back

36   Paragraph 14 of the Conclusions. Back

37   Paragraphs 28-30. SCIFA was set up following the Treaty of Amsterdam as a high-level expert group of immigration officials, reporting to COREPER (the Committee of Permanent Representatives), charged with taking a strategic view of immigration and asylum issues. " SCIFA+" is the same group meeting with the heads of Member States' border guards (Home Office evidence, p 49). Back

38   Point 45. Back

39   Paragraph 32 of the Conclusions. Back

40   Note from the Greek Presidency, Progress Report for the implementation of the Plan for the management of external borders of the Member States of the European Union and the comprehensive Plan for combating illegal immigration, Council document 7504/03, 17 March 2003. Back

41   Council document 10058/03, 3 June 2003. Back

42   Council document 8285/1/03. Back

43   Other projects include the International Airports Plan, setting up a standardised type of organisation for international airports, the Rational Repatriation Procedures Plan; a project on Coordinated criminal investigation related to cross-border crime; IMMPACT, a project providing specialist immigration training and advice to border guards in Serbia-Montenegro; and the Immigration Liaison Officers Network project. Back

44   On the development of a common policy on illegal immigration, smuggling and trafficking of human beings, external borders and the return of illegal residents, COM(2003) 323 final, 3 June 2003. Back

45   Op cit, page 7. Back

46   Council document 10274/03, 6 June 2003. Back

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