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The Role of Frontex in European Homeland Security


As popular unrest spread across the Middle East in 2011 and caused several dictatorial regimes to fall, one of the main concerns of some European governments was that large numbers of asylum-seekers and migrants might try to reach Europe as a result of these momentous events. Following the arrival of about 3,000 irregular migrants and asylum-seekers on the Italian coast in the space of a few days in February 2011, most of whom were from Tunisia, the Italian government requested support from the European Union (EU) to deal with what it saw as an emergency situation. EU support mainly took the form of a joint patrolling operation in the central Mediterranean area, called ‘Joint Operation Hermes 2011’, which was designed to enhance border surveillance. Led by Italy, it also benefited from staff and equipment contributions from several other EU Member States and was coordinated by Frontex, the EU Agency that supports the coordination of operational cooperation among Member States in the field of border security (Frontex 2011). A few months earlier, Frontex had already hit the headlines when it deployed Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs) in November 2010 in Greece to deal with the arrival of large numbers of asylum-seekers and migrants in the region of Evros at the Greek-Turkish border. Those teams comprised border guards from the 26 other EU Member States and Schengen-associated countries, who aimed to assist their Greek colleagues in various border control-related issues, such as the detection of illegal entries and the interviewing of intercepted migrants and asylum-seekers (Frontex 2010b). Thus, Frontex, which only started its operations in 2005, has already managed to craft an important role for itself as the EU agency that supports operational cooperation among EU Member States in external border controls. It is important to emphasise that this role has not always been uncontroversial (Léonard 2010). Demonstrations have taken place not only in front of the seat of the Agency in Warsaw, but also in other towns and cities where Frontex training sessions took place, such as in Lübeck in August 2008.1 Various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have criticised the activities of Frontex for breaching, in their opinion, the rights of the migrants and asylum-seekers concerned (PRO ASYL 2008; Amnesty International and European Council on Refugees and Exiles 2010). Given these controversies, it is therefore intriguing that there has been only a limited amount of scholarly work on this EU agency to date. Most of these research papers and journal articles have focused on the activities of Frontex. Focusing on the issue of border management in the EU, Jorry (2007) has examined the extent to which Frontex is likely to contribute to the implementation of the concept of ‘integrated border management’ (IBM) and can be seen as a major step towards the development of an EU common policy on external borders. Carrera (2007) has also analysed the role played by Frontex in the implementation of the EU Border Management Strategy, with a specific focus on the joint operations coordinated by the agency in the Canary Islands. Pollak and Slominski (2009) have analysed the activities of Frontex through the lens of an experimentalist governance approach in order to question the extent to which Frontex has acquired organisational autonomy and has been accountable. In addition, Neal (2009) has examined the origins of Frontex from a security studies angle, focusing in particular on whether the establishment of Frontex resulted from attempts to securitize asylum and migration in the EU, while Léonard (2010) has examined the ways in which Frontex has contributed to the securitization of migration in the EU through the deployment of various practices. In contrast with this focus on the activities of Frontex and their consequences, relatively little consideration has been given to institutional issues, and in particular the question of why it was decided to establish an agency to deal with the coordination of EU Member States’ activities in the field of external border controls. Indeed, it would have been possible to increase cooperation on external border controls without necessarily establishing a new, separate body for that purpose; for example, through the development of new working groups in the Council. As shown by other contributions in this book, the development of EU cooperation to tackle a specific security issue does not always entail the establishment of an independent agency, as demonstrated by the examples of counter-terrorism and emergency and crisis management. It is therefore intriguing that it was decided to establish an agency in the case of external borders, whereas this was not the case for other homeland security issues. For this reason, this chapter examines why EU Member States decided to create Frontex in order to support increased cooperation in the field of migration controls by drawing upon the vast literature on EU agencies. It is structured into three main sections. First, it examines the rationales for setting up EU agencies in general. Second, drawing upon these insights, it analyses the policy debates leading to the choice of an ‘agency’ institutional set-up and the creation of Frontex. In the next section, which also builds on the existing scholarship on agencies in the EU, the chapter analyses the various control mechanisms over Frontex that have been established, before drawing some conclusions.
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hal-02408415 , version 1 (13-12-2019)



Sarah Leonard. The Role of Frontex in European Homeland Security. Christian Kaunert; Sarah Leonard; Patrik Pawlak. European Homeland Security, Routledge, pp.145 - 164, 2012, 9780415677943. ⟨hal-02408415⟩
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