25 January 2017, Brussels – The European Commission is today taking stock of the progress achieved and the work still needed in making the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency fully operational.
Three months after the launch of the Agency, important steps have been completed, including the setting up of mandatory rapid reaction pools for border guards and equipment and the launch of new pools for return intervention teams. These can be deployed in support of Member States who have the primary role and competence in reinforcing the control at the external border. Currently, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has more than 1,550 officers deployed to support Member States at their external borders, complementing the existing national capacities of Member States of over 100,000 border guards. While this represents the biggest pooling of Member States’ resources so far undertaken, the running operations of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency continue to be confronted with deployment gaps, and Member States need to ensure these gaps are properly filled.
The joint investment and engagement of Member States in ensuring that the European Border and Coast Guard is fully operational as quickly as possible is a practical expression of the commitment of Member States to share responsibility and demonstrate solidarity in the common interest. Member States are represented on its Management Board.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “After the record-time adoption of the European Border and Coast Guard, all stakeholders have worked at full speed in the past three months to ensure that the Agency can intervene at our common borders whenever and wherever necessary and as quickly as possible. We now propose further concrete steps to accelerate this work. I call upon Member States to provide for the necessary human resources and equipment so that the Agency is soon fully operational.”
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “In only three months, we have made incredible progress in rolling out the activities of the European Border and Coast Guard. The rapid reaction pools of border guards and equipment are in place now, ensuring that there will no longer be shortages of staff or equipment for emergency situations across the EU. In addition, the new pools of return intervention teams will support Member States’ efforts to enhance the return of irregular migrants – a core element of our European Agenda on Migration. I call on all stakeholders to continue their work and cooperation to fully and swiftly roll out the European Border and Coast Guard in all its aspects.”
The report takes stock of progress made in the five main priority areas identified for swift implementation and endorsed by Member States at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in April 2016:
- Mandatory pooling of resources to enhance the European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s rapid reaction capability: To reinforce the manpower of the responsible national border guards,since 7 December, a Rapid Reaction Pool of 1,500 border guards and other officers has been placed at the immediate disposal of the Agency to provide support on the ground for immediate interventions when requested by Member States alongside a Rapid Reaction Equipment Pool consisting of equipment such as vessels and helicopters to carry out rapid border interventions. The rapid reaction capabilities come on top of the Agency’s ongoing joint operations and complement the national border guards deployed by the responsible Member States.
- Preventive vulnerability assessments: A common vulnerability assessment methodology has been adopted to annually evaluate the ability of Member States to face challenges at the external borders. In January 2017, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency started the collection of data on Member State capacities to serve as a basis and key reference for performing vulnerability assessments in 2017.
- Support for returns: Three new pools consisting of 690 return monitors, return escorts and return specialists have been available since 7 January 2017 enabling the European Border and Coast Guard Agency to support Member States in organising and coordinating return operations and cooperating with third countries on returns and readmission. The Agency has already significantly scaled-up its activities on returns. Since the entry into force of the new regulation in October 2016, the Agency has organised 78 return operations to return 3,421 irregular migrants – more than in the whole of 2015 (total 2016: 232 operations). The Commission will bring forward a revised Action Plan on Return in the weeks to come.
- Establishing a complaint mechanism: On 6 October 2016, a complaint mechanism was set up to monitor and ensure the respect for fundamental rights in the activities carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
- Model status agreement for operational cooperation with priority third countries: Under its new mandate, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency is allowed to carry out operations on the territory of neighbouring third countries, subject to prior agreement. A model status agreement was adopted by the Commission in November 2016. The Commission has selected Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as priority third countries and has today asked the Council to authorise the opening of negotiations with both countries.
The report also identifies concrete actions and next steps to be taken to ensure that a fully operational and equipped European Border and Coast Guard is in place. Member States need to ensure that the necessary resources are always made available at the request of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for on-going and future joint operations as well as for the deployment from the mandatory pools for rapid border interventions. Member States will also have to follow up on the results of vulnerability assessments and fix identified weaknesses swiftly. In particular, early results of this work need to feed into fixing as a matter of priority the most urgent vulnerabilities being identified. This means being able to respond in the coming months to the vulnerabilities linked to the main migration challenges being faced.
The present report is the first in a series of reports which are intended to serve as a contribution to ensure that the right tools and responses are in place for a much better protection of the external borders. The next progress report is foreseen for March 2017.
The establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard, as announced by President Juncker in his State of the Union Speech on 9 September 2015, is part of the measures set out under the European Agenda on Migration to reinforce the management and security of the EU’s external borders and to support the national border guards deployed by Member States. The Schengen area without internal borders is only sustainable if the external borders are effectively secured and protected.
On 15 December 2015, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal for the creation of a European Border and Coast Guard, building on the existing structures of Frontex, to meet the new challenges and political realities faced by the EU, both with regards to migration and internal security. The European Border and Coast Guard Regulation was approved by the European Parliament and Council in a record time of just nine months.
The European Border and Coast Guard was launched on 6 October 2016, and is the key element in strengthening control of the EU external borders. Its full functioning should allow for a return to the Schengen principles of free travel without internal borders.
EU funding for the Agency will gradually increase from €250 million in 2016 to €320 million in 2020 and the Agency’s staff will grow from 400 in 2016 to 1000 staff members in 2020.
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