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EU set to unveil controversial border force plan

The EU is set to reveal on Tuesday controversial proposals for a new border force which will be sent to trouble spots along the 28-nation bloc’s frontiers, even in cases where member states do not ask for its presence.

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The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, wants to be able to deploy personnel from a new European Border and Coastguard Agency without, as currently required, the consent of the state concerned, EU officials told Reuters in early December, reflecting frustration with Greek reluctance to seek help with migrants.

European Union officials call it a largely theoretical “nuclear option” and stress that any infringement of national sovereignty would be balanced by the power of a majority of member states to block Commission intervention – similar to checks agreed during the euro debt crisis.

The Commission will set out the plans on Tuesday, following a commitment to an EU border guard in September by President Jean-Claude Juncker, but is likely to face stiff opposition from some EU members who feel their sovereignty could be threatened.

“This idea will face opposition from most member states,” one EU diplomat told Reuters. “We believe such a solution would interfere too deeply in member states’ internal competences.”

“The Commission is testing our limits,” said another.

He compared it to the Commission’s push to oblige states to take in mandatory quotas of asylum seekers, which set furious east Europeans against German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A Polish source told AFP that "Poland is pretty much objecting to the very idea of such a border guard".

"It would remove responsibility for protecting borders from a member state and might serve as an alibi for inaction,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

"The proposal seems to be an excessive intervention in the internal competences of a state," he added.

Defending the EU’s borders

However, failure to strengthen the EU’s external borders, senior officials argue, will see more states re-impose frontier controls inside the bloc as the continent struggles to cope with a vast influx of refugees and migrants mostly from the Middle East and Africa.

They fear this could wreck the EU’s cherished free movement area, known as the Schengen zone, and foster the rise of anti-EU nationalists like France’s National Front.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner in charge of migration policy, told a Mediterranean security conference in Rome last week that national authorities had been overwhelmed by the unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers and other migrants arriving in Europe, creating the need for a pan-European solution.

"National authorities manage to do their best but they were not prepared," Avramopoulos said. "We need something more comprehensive and better structured."

He said the new agency's tasks would include defending and protecting EU borders, providing migrants with support and carrying out search and rescue operations.

It would have a staff of around 1,000 and be authorised to intervene whenever national authorities could not meet their responsibilites for border security, Avramopolous added.

In comparison, the EU’s current border agency, Frontex, has just 400 staff and around half the budget that would be granted to the envisioned new border force.

A new Returns Office that would be charged with deporting those who fail to qualify for asylum will also form part of the proposals.

In addition, the border guard force would be able to draw on a pool of around 1,500 personnel placed on standby while still working for national border forces in the Schengen area. These would form a rapid reaction force, able to deploy within days.

Unlike Frontex, the new agency would be able also to operate outside the EU - for example, in Balkan states such as Serbia - and organise joint patrols with non-EU forces, such as Turkey.

Intervention would typically be triggered by a member state asking for help but the Commission could also initiate action. At that point, it could be blocked by a majority of member states. However, another senior EU diplomat said his government would prefer that full unanimity be required in such a case.

“With unanimity, it might be possible,” he said. “But I don’t think member states will give a mandate to the Commission on this.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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