Stricter fundamental rights obligations, more solidarity with Member States facing disproportionate burdens and a new EU Border Guard System were among proposals for better cooperation at the EU’s external borders made by the Civil Liberties Committee on Thursday.
MEPs set out their wishes by passing amendments to the Commission’s proposed changes to the current mandate of Frontex, the European External Border Agency set up in 2004. These changes are intended to improve the workings of the agency in the light of experience gleaned in its first few years of operation.
Frontex should have an EU Border Guard System consisting of a pool of national border guards that can be tapped by the agency for its joint operations, rapid border missions and pilot projects, believe MEPs. They also support the Commission’s proposal to grant the agency the resources to purchase or lease its own equipment, such as vehicles or boats.
Solidarity and reduced timeframes in emergencies
Frontex should be provided by Member States with the necessary technical support and expertise in the management of external borders. In turn, the agency should promote solidarity between Member States, especially those facing “specific and disproportionate pressures”, say MEPs.
The committee suggests shortening the timeframes within which rapid border intervention missions should be deployed in urgent situations. At the request of a Member State, the agency should be allowed to deploy members of the EU border guard for a limited period, say MEPs. The Frontex Executive Director should decide, within two working days from the date the request is received, if the deployment will take place. The deployment of the teams should take place no later than three working days after an operational plan is agreed.
Stronger fundamental rights
MEPs back the creation of an advisory board on fundamental rights within Frontex which would request information and investigate compliance with fundamental rights in any operations conducted by the agency. Frontex should also draw up a code of conduct to ensure respect for fundamental rights, they say.
Under international and EU law, no person may be disembarked or handed over to the authorities of a country where his/her life or freedoms could be threatened. This ‘principle of non-refoulement’ needs to be respected by Frontex in all circumstances, stress MEPs. The agency should suspend operations if fundamental rights or international protection obligations are violated, says the Civil Liberties Committee.
Processing of personal data
Under further amendments by the committee: Frontex may process personal data when strictly necessary; in doing so, the agency should be limited to personal data of people suspected of involvement in cross-border crime, irregular migration or human trafficking, people who are victims of such activities and those subject to return operations; the term of storage should in any event not exceed three months after the date of collection; and transmission of the data to third countries should be prohibited.
The Civil Liberties Committee adopted its position by 43 votes to seven. This vote gives rapporteur Simon Busuttil (EPP, MT) a strong mandate to start negotiating with the Council in the forthcoming weeks.