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Nov 21, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Frontex prepares for everything but border protection

“These people aren’t involved in border protection,” said Prime Minister Orbán of the newly established Frontex unit proposed to the management board. Frontex, of course, is the EU agency that was set up to manage cooperation among national border guards and help secure the EU’s external border. The problem with the proposed, new unit is that it is for anything but guarding European borders and coastlines. Plus, it is ridiculously weak in numbers.

According to the rules of the Schengen agreement, member states on the outer frontiers of the Schengen zone have the job of protecting those external borders. When the waves of mass migration hit the continent, however, this became a huge challenge, and some member states were quicker to act than others. In Hungary, by the end of last year, we practically eliminated illegal migration through the Hungarian stretch of the external border of the EU.

Others, Greece and Italy in particular, have not been so successful, struggling to protect Europe’s coastal borders. That’s why Hungary was proposing to reform Frontex by beefing it up and transforming it into an agency that helps member states who are unable to fulfill their border protection tasks.

Over the summer we saw a growing support for our initiative. Finally, we thought, more than 3 years after the mass migration crisis broke, Europe responds and takes on protecting the borders. The hopes were high this fall as Frontex Management Board held its session.

High hopes this time only caused a greater disappointment. It set up a “force” of only 1,500 people and these people are not tasked with border protection. “[C]ompared to this, Hungary has 8,000 officers patrolling its southern border, day and night. So how on earth could Frontex’s 1,500 people get to grips with the problems in Italy and Greece?” – Prime Minister Orbán raised the question. In addition, we train civilian volunteers to help out the uniformed border patrol. Between 10th of August and today, Hungary has 600 civilian volunteers registered, 40 percent of the total Frontex unit.

“These people” – Orbán continued – “aren’t involved in border protection – they are immigration officials, passport-checkers and fingerprint-takers; the European Union is clearly not sending them to Italy and Greece to stop illegal immigration, but to manage the problem and facilitate the fastest possible legal immigration to the EU.” And that’s an even bigger problem. Amongst the 1,500 officials we find 467 border protection experts, 458 registration aids and fingerprint takers and 364 first or second line debriefers and screeners. As well as, my favorite, 9 press coordinators.

Notice what’s missing? The soldiers who will protect the border. But not just that.

Well maintained borders mean our achievement of free movement of persons and goods within the Schengen zone are sustainable. If outer borders are unprotected, the inner borders will be – it has already started in Austria, for example. Then, losing common achievements will mean losing other common grounds. This could be the first step in dissolving the European Union.

As we are reaching to 4th year of the mass migration crisis soon, it is time to finally wake up. However, the Frontex proposal is nothing but Europe hitting the snooze button, once again.