European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, in his State of the Union address last week, called for increasing the European Border and Coast Guard (Frontex) to 10,000 operational staff by 2020, up from the 1,600 border guards currently employed.
“We cannot continue to squabble to find ad-hoc solutions each time a new ship arrives”, Juncker stated. “Temporary solidarity is not good enough. We need lasting solidarity – today and forever more”.
The latest in a string of EU initiatives to curb migration, what will the new proposal actually do? Will it finally create prolonged solutions to Europe’s migration problem?
Frontex was established in 2016 following a Commission proposal. However, for the past two years, the unit tasked with protecting Europe’s external borders has had to rely on voluntary member state contributions of both staff and equipment – leading to some significant gaps that impact the effectiveness of joint operations.
The idea with the new 10,000-strong staff is to provide a reliable security unit with executive powers (including identity checks and authority to authorise or refuse entry at the borders) and their own equipment. The unit will also have a stronger mandate to support return procedures in member states. Overall, the unit will receive a proposed 11.3 billion euros for these upgrades over the next EU budget period, 2021-202. For 2019-2020, the proposed budget is 1.3 billion euros.
“What we are proposing will give the agency the right level of ambition to better protect the EU’s external borders, manage migration effectively, and ensure a high level of security within the Union”, said Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, remarking on Juncker’s announcement.
The EU Commission president also proposed reinforcing the future EU Asylum Agency with operational support, joint EU migration management teams, and increased financial means, while also laying out a plan for improved effectiveness of return procedures.
“We are providing member states with the necessary tools to agree on the overall reform of the EU’s asylum system and strike the right balance between solidarity and responsibility”, said First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans. “It is now high time they deliver on this commitment”.
But committing to working within the EU’s latest proposals to stem migration may not be enough. The deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s European division, Benjamin Ward, wrote back in July that “barbed-wire fences and remote camps might make voters feel safe today but they won’t address the actual forces that drive migration or resolve the situation of people on the move”.
Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday morning, the day of Juncker’s State of the Union, told lawmakers in Berlin that illegal migration poses an even greater threat to the cohesion of the EU than the Eurozone crisis.
Several countries within the bloc have been willing to take in illegal migrants and asylum seekers and work within the wave of recent EU proposals on the issue, despite the internal tensions it has created domestically. Other countries, like Hungary, have been adamantly against a coordinated way of dealing with migrants, refusing to take them in or work within the EU framework to address the issue. In fact, just hours after Juncker’s speech, the European Parliament voted to rebuke Hungary for breaches of EU rules and values.
No matter what side of the migration spectrum a country sits on, the fact is that a stronger EU border force and a new asylum agency – along with myriad other EU proposals of late – will not get to the deepest root of the problem.
Fortunately, Juncker has an answer for that as well. In the State of the Union, he also called for a new alliance with Africa – where a large share of migrants entering Europe flee from. The pact is posed to deepen economic relations and boost investment and jobs within migrants’ continent of origin. He proposal of the Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs aims to create up to 10 million jobs in Africa over the next five years. His vision also includes a continent-to-continent free trade agreement.
“We have to stop seeing this relationship through the sole prism of development aid”, Juncker said. “We will create a framework that brings more private investment to Africa”.
Since 2016, the EU External Investment Plan has been working on delivering more private investment to the African continent.
More and more, developed nations are recognising the need to tackle migration’s deepest causes: economic underdevelopment, lack of opportunity, and wars that are often fueled by core issues. Last year, the G20 launched the Compact with Africa initiative to fight poverty through private investment on the continent, in an effort to reduce mass emigration, especially as the region is expected to experience unprecedented population growth in the coming years.
It is certainly promisiting to see that Juncker’s State of the Union went beyond the anticipated European Border and Coast Guard reinforcements to analyse Europe’s forced migration crisis in a more holistic manner.