Frontex - Facts and Myths


Frontex - facts and myths
Ilkka Laitinen

Having realised there is some misunderstanding in the European press on the role of Frontex, I have decided to clarify its mission on the eve of the adoption of the Regulation on the creation Rapid Border Intervention Teams (Rabits).

Frontex is a young agency with untapped potential which needs proper resourcing. Rabits are a very good instrument for providing support for a limited period of time in exceptional and urgent situations, the Regulation says, I would also add unforeseeable. The Regulation also says Rapid Border Intervention Teams are not intended to provide long-term assistance. The Member States have created this solution and will adopt it in the coming days.

At the same time one can hear voices from Member States inviting Frontex to use Rabits immediately for stopping the flow of illegal migrants from Africa. These voices would also like Frontex to deploy as much equipment as possible to the region. Why? Because Frontex has 21 airplanes, 27 helicopters and 116 boats. That’s the fact I cannot deny, we have them… on paper.

The Centralised Record of Available Technical Equipment (CRATE) is only a record that will help us in better planning Frontex operations. CRATE is like an e-shop, you can watch it on your screen and decide what you need, then order it and pay for it. Frontex doesn’t have any vessels itself and cannot afford deployment of a big number of units to a chosen region. These assets belong to the Member States and they are subject to their will to deploy them. And as for the financial point of view, if we deployed the equipment from CRATE at once the budget of Frontex would evaporate in two weeks' time.

In the Regulation that will be adopted tomorrow Member States repeat the sentence that was already present in the Frontex Regulation: “Responsibility for the control of the external borders lies with the Member States”. It seems that the will of Member States is crystal clear. In the Regulation establishing Frontex Member States stated that the need for creating an integrated management of operational cooperation at the external borders of the EU cannot be sufficiently satisfied by the Member States and can be better approached at Community level by Frontex.

Therefore, Frontex started the implementation of integrated border management fulfilling the duty given to it by the Member States. Last weeks I learned reading the press that Member States don’t want Frontex to fulfil its tasks; Member States want Frontex to become a search and rescue body. Legal advisors could have some problems in explaining why a Community agency should take action in an area that is out of the mandate not only of the agency but also the European Union.

The raison d’être of Frontex are not emergency operations but the consistent introduction of well planned regular patrols by Member States, in order to limit urgent missions and to integrate the management of borders in all its dimensions defined by the Member States. Doctors say that the best intensive care unit cannot replace prophylaxis; I would say that it applies also to borders.

Frontex is not and never will be a panacea to problems of illegal migration. The agency with personnel of 82 people and a budget of € 35m cannot take over the duty of hundreds of thousands of border guards in the European Union. Maybe our activities in the Mediterranean do not seem sufficient for some people but we have to act in accordance with the legal mandate we have, and in the fixed financial frames we have, not to mention the human resources and the willingness of the Member States to act together.

Summing up I would like to remind that Frontex activities are supplementary to those undertaken by the Member States. Frontex doesn’t have any monopole on border protection and is not omnipotent. It is a coordinator of the operational cooperation in which the Member States show their volition. If some of our critics think it is not enough they should fix their eyes on decision takers, as Frontex only executes its duties described in the Regulation 2007/2004.