FRONTEX: new human rights watchdog, new powers
FRONTEX, the EU border control agency set up in 2004, will appoint an inspector to ensure that EU border checks respect human rights, under changes to its mandate adopted by Parliament on Tuesday. The agency will also own or lease its own assets and will no longer depend on Member States' commitments.
The new Frontex rules were approved with 431 votes in favour, 49 against and 48 abstentions.
One of Parliament's key achievements has been insert provisions to ensure full respect for human rights in all Frontex actions. At MEPs' request, the agency will hire a "fundamental rights officer" and set up a "consultative forum on fundamental rights" to assist the agency's management board. The consultative forum will include the EU Fundamental Rights and Asylum Support agencies, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and NGOs specialising in this field.
"This is the most important overhaul of the law that established Frontex in 2004 and Parliament greatly welcomes it. Our assessment of the first 6 years of experience of the agency is that it needs to be strengthened and be made more effective", said rapporteur Simon Busuttil (EPP, MT) during the debate.
Under the new rules, in the event of a breach of human rights, Frontex missions may be suspended or terminated. Also, the agency's tasks will include providing assistance to Member States in situations that may involve humanitarian emergencies and rescue at sea.
Frontex will also develop codes of conduct to guarantee compliance with human rights in all missions, including return operations. Under international law, no person may be disembarked or handed over to the authorities of a country where his/her life or freedoms could be threatened. The agency will respect this principle of "non-refoulement" in all circumstances, says the agreed text.
Frontex itself will buy or lease its own equipment, such as cars or helicopters, rather than depending on what Member States allocate to it, as it was hitherto the case. The new rules also require Member States to stick to their commitments, negotiated on a yearly basis, to provide a certain number of border guards or amount of equipment to the agency.
European Border Guard Teams
European border guard teams, which should boost efficiency and make Frontex actions more visible by combining today's "joint support teams" and "rapid border intervention teams", will be formed by national guards assigned by Member States to joint missions.
Once the Council gives its green light to the new regulation, it will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal. The new rules will therefore take effect by the end of 2011.
Procedure: Co-decision (1st reading)