Background: Perfection of the Border Regime
The Border Package of the European Commission
05.Apr.08 - On February 13th, 2008, Franco Frattini, the Justice, Security and Freedom Commissioner and Vice-President of the European Commission, presented the European Commission's so-called Border Package, entitled 'A comprehensive vision for an integrated European border management system for the 21st century'.
The package is comprised of three parts. The first is an evaluation of and outlook for Frontex, the European border security agency. The second part addresses the establishment of the European border surveillance system (EUROSUR). The third part discusses the creation of an entry register. In particular, the third part was picked up by the media and was, in parts, heavily criticized. This raises concerns that this allowed for distraction from the first two parts, which will be silently implemented without further discussion.
At the press conference, Franco Frattini emphasized repeatedly that the border package is only a proposal for the future architecture of the European Union's border management. It must now be discussed with the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the member states. It is only a vision, and not a concrete proposition, and above all not something that is ready to be implemented. Rather, implementation would only happen over the next five to ten years. Nevertheless, the EU is expected to take concrete steps towards an even more rigid 'politic of fortification' within a short period of time.
Slovenia, which will hold the Presidency of the EU for the first half of 2008, is to host a conference presented by the EU Minister for Interior Affairs, 'Securing the European Borders', on March 11 and 12, 2008. It is of concern that some of the (non-binding) suggestions of the commission will be put into place at this conference. Furthermore, in 2008,an evaluation of the 'Schengen' process will take place, which could lead to further new initiatives by the European Union.
This text shall sketch out the direction in which the European Commission wants to take the European border regime. Through this process, some links between the existing 'Border Management' and the practice of 'Frontex' will be illustrated The need for this unattractive vision of a complete and highly technological practice of 'fortification' to be met with resistance should be clear.
The Commission evidently conducted an evaluation of 'Frontex' (or is still in the process of completing it). Firstly, the commission praises the work of 'Frontex'. In 2006 and 2007, 'Frontex' allegedly picked up 53,000 people or refused them entry at the border. Whether these figures include those picked up in operations conducted in the coastal waters of Mauritania and Senegal is not clear. In addition, Frontex confiscated 2900 counterfeit documents and arrested 58 'coyotes'. Furthermore, the Commission praises the European Patrols Network (EPN), a network of bilateral co-operation among the EU's Mediterranean Countries. The EPN is a paradigm for the Frontex operation: making links and harmonizing between states, moving towards a Europe-wide network.
More interesting is the review of the Central Record of Available Technical Equipment (CRATE), Frontex' toolbox. Apparently, at present, only a few heartbeat detectors and surveillance plans have been requested. Also, the Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) have not yet been put into action.
For the near future, the Commission is proposing, above all, two points. One is the establishment of regional Frontex offices (specialized branches of the agency). At the Border Package press conference, Frattini hinted that such an office could be established on Malta. Another one seems to be being developed in A Coruna, Galizia, Spain (but this could also be a NCC for EUROSUR).
The second point is the expansion of CRATE. Frontex will receive its own border protection equipment, so that its availability for RABIT operations is assured. From this, one might conclude that the criticism expressed by Frontex Executive Director Laitinien in the summer of 2007, that CRATE equipment is only nominally available, remains unheard. A critical concern is the suggestion by the Commission that Frontex could buy or lease its own airplanes, which then could be used for joint deportations. This illustrates another dangerous trend: a shift from utilizing commercial flights to carry out deportations, which have proven to be potentially vulnerable to attacks, to chartering entire airplanes, to the desire to own airplanes used solely for deportations. In total, Frontex has already participated in nine joint deportation operations, with six more to follow shortly. An expansion of Frontex' deportation activities is explicitly wanted by the Commission.
The Commission has also made recommendations for a long-term vision. In this respect, Frontex is to build cooperation with so-called 'third states', in order to include them in Europe's effort to seal its borders.
Currently, work agreements exist on a technical level with Switzerland, Russia and Ukraine, and negotiations are underway with Croatia. Furthermore, Frontex has a mandate for negotiations with Macedonia, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Cap Verde, Moldavia, and Georgia. Additional agreements with western Balkan countries, West African nations, the United States, and Canada are planned. Negotiations with countries identified as countries of origin and transit countries are a priority for Frontex.
At the border, the Integrated Border Management will be expanded. It is planned that Frontex will no longer only coordinate and link the work of the different national border security agencies, but should also include the various custom agencies. Frattini explicitly emphasized this as a'vision' at the press conference. In addition, the Commission will order a study on how to improve cooperation between the various agencies (inter-agency cooperation).
For the still-to-be established European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR), the role of Frontex will be seen as essential. (See Graphic 1). Frontex is also conceptualized as a central hub for data exchange for the information systems connected through EUROSUR. It will have direct access to all those systems. The long-term vision is a Frontex intelligence led information system (whatever that is supposed to mean).
On an operational level, the Commission has reanimated the idea of a European Border Police Force (European Border Guard Corps, EBGC), although this idea would only be tackled once enough positive experiences have been gathered with the RABITs. At the technical press conference, it was explained that this EBGC could consist of different national Border Security Units, who would only have to wear an additional European Union flag on their uniforms. In the short run, additional funds for upgrading border security measures and border security police will be made available. The European Border Fund committed to 1820 billion Euros, for 2007 - 2013.
Additional suggestions include
1. Further semi-permanent Frontex operations should be added to the European Patrol Network (EPN).
2. Frontex should become head of the CIREFI.
3. Expansion of the training of Border Security Units.
4. Further research projects into border security technology.
The evaluation and suggestions made by the Commission indicate that Frontex is not conceptualized as the agency responsible for the actual business of 'border management', but rather as a focal point for the formation of the European border regime. The pickup numbers stem from operations initialized by Frontex, and in which Frontex participated, along with experts and observers, while the actual execution remained in the hands of the national border security units. On the one hand, Frontex is an node where information is gathered and processed. On the other hand, it is an agency which conducts research projects and studies, leading to the formation of European border security architecture (EBGC, EUROSUR, EPN). As Frattini elaborated at the press conference, Frontex is, at this point, only in charge of controlling and fending off unregulated migration. However, in the future, Frontex should take over coordination of the Integrated Border Management System, which will not only deal with migration management, but also include aspects of security and customs.
The intention of the Commission is that EUROSUR, the European Border Surveillance System, be developed in the near future. The idea is to interconnect existing border surveillance technology, including satellite, drone, and radar technology. The Spanish SIVE (sistema integrado de vigilancia exterior), which began operations in 2003, seems to serve as an example. Pro Asyl complains that SIVE has led to an increased migrant fatality rate, and by no means prevented migration, but rather served to lengthen migration routes and make them more dangerous. Frontex contributed to other systems with its Bortec, Bsuav, and Sobcah studies on technological feasibility.
The idea behind EUROSUR is one of total control, and complete knowledge of what is happening on both sides of the border. It is to first be implemented at the southern and eastern borders of the European Union, but then be extended to the entire border of the European Union. Interestingly, the Commission names as a goal reducing the fatality rate of unregulated migrants, followed by the usual security new-speak, in which they explain that defending the European border from migrants will increase the internal security of the Schengen area.
EUROSUR is conceptualized in two parts. On the one hand, it is supposed to provide a information network of existing surveillance technologies, on the other hand, new technologies are also to be installed. The first phase is supposed to guarantee the compatibility of the different systems. According to Frattini, this means the harmonization of about 50 national institutions, which is - even for the European Union - a challenge. The European Border Fund is to provide the resources for border surveillance equipment at an equally sophisticated level. The inclusion of so-called 'third countries'seen as desirable. This could mean, for example, that the West African coast, with agreement from their respective governments, could be monitored via satellite. In the EU, national coordination centers are to be established.
In the second phase, technology that purports to be able to survey pre-frontier areas will be improved. In addition, the interconnection of networks will be expanded.
In the third phase, which only deals with sea borders, an additional information network is to be established (common information sharing environment for the EU maritime domain).
4 Entry/Exit System
The Entry/Exit System is the most ambitious EU project. A system that records each entry and exit of 'Third State citizens' is being planned. According to the EU Commission, 300 million entries into and exits out of the EU are registered each year (this is a conservative number, other estimates reach 800 million). All 'Third State citizens'who remain within the EU for up to 90 days are to be recorded by the system, as well as members of states who require a visa. This means that each entry and exit of non-EU-citizens will be recorded, by the newly established Visa Information System.
To this end, a biometric checking system at all entry ports will be established. EU citizens can identify/authenticate themselves using biometric passports, while biometric indicators will be required for all other citizen, when applying for a visa, or when crossing the border without a visa.
In the long term, the Commission seems to be planning to replace the visa system with the STA (System for Travel Authentification). The idea would be to replace visa data with biometric indicators, collected in a central data base.
In return, a system will exist to give frequent (bona fide) travelers the option to pre-register, allowing them quick entry. Only iris features will have to be provided, which then will apparently be checked within 15 seconds. This decision seems to be derived from the Borsec study, which was commissioned by Frontex as well.
The Commission's desire seems to be an expansion of what they claim control over – in this instance, the entries into and exits from the EU. The frequent travelers program is therefore to be seen as a promise to the public, that the whole effort (collecting biometric data from the entire population, estimated at a cost of 20 million Euros, rearmament of the border) also has some benefit for citizens.
More so, the Commission's interest is in closing the primary route of unregulated immigrants. Frontex also admits that most unregulated immigrants cross the border with proper papers, but remain within the EU after their visa expires (so called visa overstayers). This possibility would be hampered, because the VIS would automatically report anyone with an expired visa to the EU member states and designate them for expulsion. Even if this did not result in immediate arrest, the entitlement EU to at least know who remains within its territory without valid papers would be created.
At this time, the Commission estimates that about 8 billion unregulated immigrants lived in the EU in 2006. But the legitimacy of this number is questionable. It is based on the picking up of 500,000 unregulated migrants in the EU in 2006 (of whom only 40% were deported!). In addition, the Commission estimates that the over-stay rate is 50%, based on various studies.
The Commission is planning a highly extensive data-gathering program, which would be one of a kind worldwide. At this point, there is a need for a debate, as to whether such information-gathering technological projects can be successful, or whether they will fail due to their complexity, and whether there is a need for new strategies to resist total surveillance. The Commission's project is very ambitious, but it is to be expected that the Ministers for Interior Affairs of the member states will follow these recommendations (or even actively push them forward). Criticism has so far been limited to arguments around privacy protection. It is important to develop a broader perspective.