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After much negotiating and finger pointing about who should actually be in charge, in an announcement yesterday by the European Council the decision to set up a common coast and border guard for the EU has been given a confirmed start date. The new regulation, which the Council approved by written procedure, will see the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency commencing activities by mid-October of this year.

The Council set out the priorities of this new division in its own press release yesterday.

“The main role of the European Border and Coast Guard is to help provide integrated border management at the external borders. It will ensure the effective management of migration flows and provide a high level of security for the EU. At the same time it will help safeguard free movement within the EU and respect fully fundamental rights”.

The agency will be made up of the current Frontex department with expanded tasks and the national authorities responsible for European border management. The initial plan will be to focus on establishing an operational strategy for border management and coordinating the assistance that will be provided by all member states of the EU.

The Council set out the goals to achieve these tasks in its statement.

  1. Drafting of vulnerability assessment of member states’ border control capacity;
  2. Organising joint operations and rapid border interventions to strengthen the capacity of the member states control the external borders, and to tackle challenges at the external border resulting from illegal immigration or cross-border crime
  3. Assisting the Commission in the coordination of support teams when a member state faces disproportionate migratory pressures at specific points on their external border;
  4. Ensuring a practical response in cases requiring urgent action at the external borders;
  5. Providing technical and operational assistance in support of search and rescue operations for persons in distress at sea during border surveillance operations;
  6. Helping establish a rapid reserve pool of at least 1500 border guards;
  7. Appointing liaison officers of the agency in member states;
  8. Organising, coordinating and conducting return operations and interventions;
  9. Promoting operational cooperation between member states and third countries on border management

It was also announced that the mandates of the European Fisheries Control Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency have been aligned to that of the new European Border Guard.

The target date for commencement will be 6 October 2016 (20 days after its publication in the Official Journal). Once the regulation comes into force, it is expected that the agency will start its activities immediately.

While this announcement is a welcome addition to the security of member states in the fight against terrorism, one would hope that it will not be abused or become a money pit for those local states that are currently underfunded and looking to divert this support elsewhere. There is also the matter of who will be in charge on the ground should difficult situations arise? Will we see a repeat of barbed wire fences but this time with the image of the EU on them rather than local state flags? Not only should the EU be pushing for an agreed platform with regards to a common policy on border control amongst all EU member states, but it must be willing to act and punish if necessary, those states who abuse the polices when they fail to suit their own agendas. A number of EU members have complained about the lack of action from Brussels but now that it appears to be happening, they need to be aware that this is an all in decision.