In an effort to come to grips with the immigration crisis, European Parliament has approved a new, pan-EU Border and Coast Guard Agency. Euractiv reports:
The Parliament adopted the Commission’s European Border and Coast Guard Agency proposal with 483 votes for, 181 votes against and 48 abstentions.
The new European Border and Coast Guard agency will have a rapid reaction pool of 1500 border guards at the disposal of any member state facing a crisis. Up to now, Greece and Italy have been under a considerable strain in the context of the unprecedented migrant crisis the EU is confronted with. The Balkan route in recent weeks has been largely closed, but up to 4.000 migrants per day have been rescued in recent days off the Italian shores.
The Agency will have a new mandate to send liaison officers to and launch joint operations with neighbouring third countries, including operating on their territory. It will also have a stronger role in returns. A European Return Office will be established within the Agency to allow for the deployment of European Return Intervention Teams composed of escorts, monitors and return specialists who will work to effectively return illegally staying third country nationals. A standard European travel document for return will ensure a wider acceptance of returnees by third countries.
To address issues such as the unchecked travel of foreign fighters to Syria via Turkey or other countries, mandatory checks of EU citizens at external land, sea, and air borders will be performed, against databases such as the Schengen Information System, the Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database and relevant national systems, in order to verify that persons arriving do not represent a threat to public order and internal security.
Previously, EU citizens at the external Schengen borders had to show their documents, but the information was not systematically entered in databases.
This is a good idea—but it’s also kind of shocking it hadn’t been brought in before. That it hadn’t is a sign of two problems plaguing the EU. First, a lot of the architecture of the Union has an inherent disjunct between its pan-European aspirations and its national powers: expecting national border patrols to police a common, pan-national border (with only minimal assistance from the EBCG’s small, relatively weak predecessor Frontex) never made a whole lot of sense. Second, of course, is the slowness with which the EU reacts to any crisis. Refugees and migrants have been drowning in the Mediterranean and overwhelming Europe’s borders for over two years now; perhaps, just perhaps, this should have come sooner.
Now that it has, this is surely an area the U.S.—which has both a well-equipped, big, storied coast guard and a border agency of whom much the same could be said—could help the Europeans (who, as we keep writing, need more political attention than they’ve been getting) as they try to step up the force rapidly.
Because if things don’t move quicker, politics is going to overtake the time-frame for this sort of technocratic fix. Which, you could say, well may be the epitaph for the EU as a whole.