EU makes proposals to strengthen Frontex, but avoids rules of engagement
The European Commission today announced proposals to strengthen Frontex, its border management agency, but made no mention of Maltese protests over the new rules of engagement.
The Commission said its proposals include reinforcing the legal framework to ensure full respect of fundamental rights during Frontex activities and enhancing the operational capacity of Frontex to support member states.
In terms of the new proposals, member states would put more equipment and more personnel at the Agency's disposal. Frontex would be able to co-lead border patrols operations with EU member states. It would also be allowed to provide technical assistance to third countries and deploy liaison officers in third countries.
Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said: "‘Today's proposal will pave the way for more solidarity and better cooperation between EU countries. This will give us the opportunity to better deal with irregular immigration and human trafficking, while at the same time strengthening the safeguards to guarantee full respect of fundamental rights."
The Commission said its proposals would ensure that Frontex could provide appropriate technical and human resources in the framework of joint border patrols. EU countries would have to ensure that a pool of equipment such as boats and planes are at the disposal of the Agency, which would also be able to gradually buy or lease equipment.
The proposal also introduces an explicit requirement for all border guards taking part in operations to have been trained in fundamental rights, with the aim to safeguard that all immigrants are met with full respect of fundamental rights and in particular the principle of non-refoulement.
The operational capacity will be enhanced by clarifying the respective roles of Frontex and the participating member states, while respecting the principle that each member state remains responsible for controlling its section of the external border. Specific provisions are proposed concerning the operational plan, the evaluation of the operations and incident reporting schemes.
"Frontex will continue to be able to coordinate joint operations, returning immigrants to their country of origin. Safeguards are put in place to make sure that these return operations are carried out in full respect of fundamental rights. For example, an independent monitor shall be present during such operations and report to the Commission on the compliance by member states with EU law and a code of conduct that sets out the fundamental rights standards to be respected."
Malta had protested that new rules of engagement, which are now awaiting approval by the European Parliament, say that if it is not possible to return migrants picked up by Frontex vessels to the country they left from, they must be sent to the country hosting the Frontex mission.
Malta insists that if they cannot be sent to their point of departure, migrants should be sent to the nearest harbour.
"Our position has not changed. If the rules of engagement are not changed, Malta will not host another Frontex mission," a spokesman for the Home Affairs Ministry told timesofmalta.com today.
The Commission proposals also have to be debated and approved by the European Parliament and EU governments in the Council.