After Albania and Montenegro, the EU Commission has concluded a Frontex status agreement with Serbia, to be followed by Northern Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. A first deployment of the EU border troops has meanwhile been increased.
The European Commission has now also signed an arrangement with Serbia on “cooperation on border management”. The so-called status agreement regulates the implementation of “Joint Operations” with the EU border agency Frontex at the common borders with the European Union. It was already published by the Commission in January and has now been ratified by the Serbian Parliament. Kosovo’s territory is excluded.
The objectives of the agreement include the fight against irregular migration and cross-border crime in accordance with the Frontex Regulation. The EU also promises “increased technical and operational assistance” to the Serbian border police.
Model status agreement for “priority third countries”
The negotiations with Serbia followed a model status agreement approved by the Commission under the “European Migration Agenda” for operational cooperation with “priority third countries”. The Commission first concluded a status agreement with Albania a year ago, followed by a similar agreement with Montenegro on 7 October this year. Further status agreements with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Northern Macedonia have been negotiated but still need to be ratified by the national parliaments. The European Parliament must also give its assent.
Once all five status agreements have been signed, Frontex could be deployed throughout the whole Western Balkans with the exception of Kosovo. The EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, describes the agreements as “yet one more step towards bringing the Western Balkan region closer to the EU”. All countries concerned are considered candidates for EU membership and the agreement to the Frontex operations is intended to facilitate the negotiations.
However, this rapprochement is likely to be damaged by the decision of the French government to refuse negotiations on EU membership to Northern Macedonia and Albania despite fulfilling the necessary conditions. The North Macedonian parliament could therefore delay the planned Frontex agreement. The same applies to Bosnia-Herzegovina, which France’s President Macron described as a “ticking time bomb” for returning jihadists.
Police powers and immunity
The border police officers sent by Frontex from the EU Member States receive a special identity card from the country of deployment and wear their own uniforms with a blue Frontex armband. They will also carry weapons, ammunition and equipment from their sending state and may use force.
The troops enjoy immunity during Frontex operations. If a criminal offence is found, it will be prosecuted by the jurisdiction of the Member State of origin. Frontex team members also enjoy full protection against civil and administrative prosecution in the State of operation. The latter will also be liable for any damage caused by a member of the team during “all acts performed in the exercise of the official functions”.
Deployment plan agreed with Greece
Following the conclusion of the status agreement with Albania, it took six months for Frontex to launch its by now “first-ever joint operation” on the territory of a neighbouring third country. According to Frontex, the governments in Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Romania, Poland and Slovenia have sent personnel to a total of 16 patrol vehicles and one thermovision car.
According to the operational plan, which Frontex says is agreed with the Greek government, the operation will take place along the entire “green” border and, in addition to border surveillance in the sections Sopik, Çarçovë, Leskovik, Shtikë, Kapshticë and Livadhja, will include border control at the Albanian-Greek crossing points Kakavija, Tre Urat (Çarçovë), Kapshticë, Rips and Qafe Bote. Frontex has set up support offices in Gjirokaster, Kakavija and Kapshticë to coordinate operations.
In the meantime, the operation, which started with 50 EU officials, has grown to 66. One sixth comes from the German Federal Police, which also brought along six of the twelve patrol vehicles currently in use. In addition to operational border control, training measures are also planned in Albania. The operation will also facilitate the exchange of operational information and “best practices”.
No Albanian human rights groups involved
The new Frontex Regulation will apply from 4 December. The border agency will be then granted more powers and will set up a border troop of 10,000 border guards. The measures taken by Frontex should be observed by a Fundamental Rights Officer, among others. Frontex has also set up a Consultative Forum with non-governmental organisations to advise the Agency on how to prevent infringements.
For “Joint Operations” in third countries, the Consultative Forum recommends involving human rights groups active there in the operational plan. However, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, which sends eleven officers to Albania, has “no knowledge” of the involvement of Albanian non-governmental organisations. The German Government also does not know which Albanian organisations might be asked to participate.
Image: Start of Frontex deployment in Albania (Frontex).