Since 2016, the EU border agency has been given considerably more power. A new management post is now responsible for the currently established armed border force, a deportation unit and data retention.
With two new regulations, the Council of the European Union and the Parliament have equipped the border agency Frontex with new capabilities and competences. Since 2016, Frontex has been allowed to acquire vehicles, aircraft and drones and decide on their deployment there after approval by a host state. The 2019 regulation also provides for the establishment of a “Standing Corps” of 10,000 officers reporting directly to the headquarters in Warsaw. The 2019 Regulation also allows Frontex to prepare and conduct deportation flights on its own. In addition, the “Standing Corps” will also take over the establishment and operation of a huge new database for personal travel information.
Frontex was given a new command structure for the three new areas. For the first time, the Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri is assisted by three Deputy Directors. The positions were advertised a year ago and appointed in October. Together with their superior, they have sole authority over all operations. The Frontex Regulation guarantees that no other body has authority over the management of the border agency.
Operations in third countries
After their induction period, Frontex deputy directors are now becoming more visible. Aija Kalnaja, who comes from Latvia, is responsible for the “Standing Corps”. As one of her first official acts, she presented Frontex operations in the Western Balkans at the “EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum” in December. Since 2019, the agency has also been operating in third countries with uniformed and armed personnel, first in Albania, then in Montenegro and Serbia. Similar operations could soon take place in Senegal and Mauritania.
Kalnaja joined Frontex in 2018 and has been instrumental in the agency’s growth as Director of Capacity Building. As part of her police career, she headed the Latvian contact office for the Schengen Information System and was subsequently appointed as police attaché for the UK. She then took over the “Operations” department at the EU Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL).
In addition to the “Standing Corps”, Kalnaja remains responsible for capacity building at Frontex. This includes the procurement and coordination of technical equipment and “innovative solutions” for the border force.
First deployment of the “European Centre for Returns”
The post of the new deportation chief at Frontex was given to the German Federal Police officer Lars Gerdes. Frontex is setting up a “European Centre for Returns” which Gerdes will head. It offers member states a “full service” for deportations, takes care of their preparation and implementation and also takes care of all necessary measures after return. The “escort and support officers” for deportations set up for this purpose are part of the “Standing Corps”.
Gerdes previously headed the training mission of the German Federal Police in Afghanistan for several years. At Frontex, the police director was also a deputy German member of the Administrative Board. It makes decisions on the strategic development of Frontex, with each EU member state sending two voting members to Warsaw.
Several “return” databases
In a first “return operation” initiated and organised entirely by the agency, Frontex “return teams” deported 40 Albanian nationals to Tirana a week ago. The Frontex-chartered plane took off from Madrid, with more people being brought on board during a stopover in Rome. Frontex obtained the necessary documents and permits for the mass deportation through the EU Delegation in Albania and the liaison officers stationed there.
For deportations and “voluntary” return operations, Frontex operates a “Return Case Management System” (RECAMAS) consisting of national and a central system. Frontex processes operational, statistical and strategic information in a central “Integrated Return Management Application” (IRMA). Personal data of data subjects are stored in a “Frontex Return Application” (FAR), including the type of travel document, a “security risk assessment”, how healthy the person is or whether the return is voluntary or “enforced”. Passenger Name Records (PNR) of the persons concerned and accompanying persons (such as family members) are also kept in FAR. All data must be deleted 30 days after the end of the procedure.
IT central system with “risk indicators”
Uku Särekanno, from Estonia, was appointed as the third deputy director for “Information Management and Processes”. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Ministry of Interior, he advised the police on large-scale IT systems, among other things. In 2018, he was appointed deputy director for cybersecurity at the Estonian Information Systems Agency. Most recently, Särekanno was responsible for the implementation of new databases at the Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems (eu-LISA), also based in Estonia.
Among other things, eu-LISA operates the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). All visa-free travellers to the EU have to deposit personal data via a form before crossing the border. The information is checked against other European police databases. ETIAS then issues either clearance or a refusal of entry. Frontex manages the ETIAS central office with around 250 officers, some of whom have already been recruited. They are responsible for processing personal data. If there is a “hit”, the incident is processed manually and forwarded to the national ETIAS units in the member states for examination. The border agency also develops “risk indicators” to help detect suspicious persons or journeys in the data sets.
The operation of the central unit at Frontex has to be financed by the applicants, who pay a fee of seven euros for each ETIAS approval or rejection. The system is due to go into operation next year and, as things stand, affects around 1.4 billion people from over 60 countries.
Image: Latest recruits of the “Standing Corps” (Frontex).