Once again, the government in Madrid is at odds with Frontex over competences. One mission has already been cancelled as a result. EU funding is also at stake.
The EU border agency is threatening to end its operations in Spain and withdraw personnel, ships and aircraft. The background is the coordination of operational plans for the missions that Frontex carries out at the Strait of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean and Atlantic as well as on the Canary Islands to tackle irregular immigration.
The Spanish daily newspaper “El País” reports on the dispute in its Thursday edition. According to the article, Frontex is demanding more command authority in the missions. Spain, on the other hand, does not want to accept that the border agency wants to access personal data from interviews with migrants. Frontex introduced new regulations on this on 18 January, which must be implemented by the Ministry of the Interior in Madrid.
Frontex is carrying out the “Indalo” mission in the Alboran Sea between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic using aircraft and ships from various member states. On the Canary Islands, Frontex supports the Spanish authorities in identifying asylum seekers, questioning them and checking their passport documents.
Frontex currently has 350 border police officers deployed in Spain. Many of them come from other EU member states, but now also from the emerging “Standing Corps”, a pool of border troops under the direct command of Frontex. The agency wants to recruit 10,000 of its own officers by 2027.
According to “El País”, the postponed arrival of an Icelandic aircraft and an Italian ship that were to be deployed as part of “Indalo” shows that the situation is serious. The deployment of 74 border police officers and 34 interpreters is also in limbo. “Stay in the operational area without carrying out any tasks”, Frontex is said to have instructed the personnel already in the country on Wednesday morning.
Both parties have given themselves another week to reach an agreement, writes “El País”. If Frontex were to be withdrawn, Spain would have to forego EU funding for migration defence operations, which amounts to around 63 million euros for the coming year.
A dispute between Frontex and Spain had already led to the suspension of EU activities in 2019. At the time, the agency cancelled its maritime mission “Hera” in the Atlantic off Senegal and Mauritania – it was the oldest and longest mission to date, which Frontex had started shortly after the agency was founded in 2006. The background to this was also disputes over competences. Frontex is now endeavouring to set up its own mission in Senegal, but negotiations have stalled.
On Wednesday, Frontex officially began this year’s missions in EU countries as well as in Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia. The plan is to carry out 19 operations at around 300 border crossings, harbours and airports. Following a pilot project in Romania, Frontex has also introduced a new command structure. The new chain of command shifts more responsibilities to the officers on the ground, allowing the force to react more flexibly. This “robust and effective management structure” may have led to the problems with Spain.
According to the agency, it has a total of around 2,500 officers deployed. In the “Terra” mission, 700 of them secure the entire eastern land border of the EU in a north-south corridor from Finland to Greece. Following increased arrivals of asylum seekers seeking to enter the EU via Russia, the government in Finland has now requested support from Frontex for further months. Frontex will also be on site at the Olympic Games in France this year.
As every year, Frontex’s joint operation “Minerva” in Spain is also on the programme for the summer. It is intended to support the Spanish gendarmerie in the harbours of Algeciras, Tarifa and Ceuta with checks on passenger traffic to and from Morocco. However, if no agreement is reached in the current dispute over competences, this mission would also be cancelled.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: With the “Standing Corps”, Frontex is establishing a border force under its own command (Frontex)