The Schengen area without internal borders is only sustainable if the external borders are effectively protected. Moreover, the recent events in the Mediterranean have shown that we must work together more closely to manage our external borders.
This is what our citizens expect. The European Commission said it back in May 2015 and President Juncker said it during his election campaign: we need to strengthen Frontex significantly and develop it into a fully operational European border and coastguard system.
This is why last December the Commission proposed to establish a European Border and Coast Guard, composed of a European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the national authorities.
After six months of deliberations, an agreement was recently reached between the European Parliament, the Ministers of the Member States and the European Commission.
This agreement paves the way for the reinforced Agency to be up and running starting this summer.
As Commissioner Avramopoulos said, “where Frontex used to be limited to supporting Member States in managing their external borders, the new Border Agency will go beyond this.
What we are creating today is more European: to manage our external borders, to step up returns of irregular migrants, to allow our asylum system to function properly for those in need and to strengthen checks at the external borders of the European Union”.
The new Agency will ensure Union standards for border management are implemented at all external borders.
The external borders will be constantly monitored with periodic risk analyses and mandatory vulnerability assessments to identify and address weak spots. Liaison officers will be seconded to Member States where the borders are at risk.
They will be fully integrated into the national information systems and able to relay the information back to the Agency.
The Agency’s permanent staff will be more than doubled and, for the first time, the Agency will be able to purchase its own equipment and deploy them in border operations at a moment’s notice.
A rapid reserve pool of border guards and a technical equipment pool will be put at the disposal of the Agency – meaning there will no longer be shortages of staff or equipment for Agency operations.
When deficiencies are identified, theAgency will be empowered to require Member States take timely corrective action.
In urgent situations that put the functioning of the Schengen area at risk and when deficiencies have not been remedied, the Agency will be able to step in to ensure that action is taken on the ground even where there is no request for assistance from the Member State concerned, or where that Member State considers that there is no need for additional intervention.
The European Border and Coast Guard comes at the right moment. This will provide the missing link to strengthen Europe’s external borders, so that people can continue to live and move freely within the European Union, and it reiterates our firm commitment to a safe and secure European Union.
George Markopouliotis is head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus