Border drones (Part 1): Unmanned surveillance of the EU’s external borders by Frontex

Since 2009, the EU Border Agency Frontex has been hosting training events on drones and inviting manufacturers to regular demonstrations. There, border police from Schengen member states were presented market-available unmanned systems for the surveillance of land and maritime borders. The basis for this is the first Frontex Regulation, adopted in 2004, which contains the mandate to „follow up on the development of research relevant for the control and surveillance of external borders“. The agency’s remit therefore includes continuous exchange with „cross-sectorial partners“ in order to „transform operational requirements into innovative operational solutions“.

In the case of the introduction of these technologies, Frontex is to coordinate with European standardisation institutes as appropriate. In 2010, small drones were the initial focus in Finland. A year later, high-flying MALE-class aircraft were unveiled in the Greek port city of Aktio. Prior to this, Frontex had issued a call for the event to explore the integration of drones into the EU border surveillance system EUROSUR. Subsequently, aircraft such as the Israeli „Heron 1“, the American „Predator“, the French „Patroller“ as well as the „Euro Hawk“ (which at the time was in the procurement phase for the German Armed Forces as a spy drone) were presented in lectures. Some drones were demonstrated live; in the case of the Spanish offshoot of the French arms company Thales, the latter touted the suitability of its „Fulmar“ against irregular migration.

In its 2012 work programme, Frontex announced its intention to „identify more cost-efficient and operational effective solutions for aerial border surveillance in particular Unmanned Aircraft Systems“. Under the name „All Eyes“, the agency then wanted to identify cheap and effective solutions, including also so-called Optional Piloted Aerial Vehicles (OPV). Within nine months, an initial study on this was to be carried out, followed by „practical field tests and an evaluation“. The budget was 450,000 euros. „Border drones (Part 1): Unmanned surveillance of the EU’s external borders by Frontex“ weiterlesen

Unmanned surveillance for Fortress Europe

The agencies EMSA and Frontex have spent more than €300 million on drone services since 2016. The Mediterranean in particular is becoming a testing track for further projects.

According to the study „Eurodrones Inc.“ presented by Ben Hayes, Chris Jones and Eric Töpfer for Statewatch seven years ago, the European Commission had already spent over €315 million at that time to investigate the use of drones for border surveillance. These efforts focused on capabilities of member states and their national contact centres for EUROSUR. The border surveillance system, managed by Frontex in Warsaw, became operational in 2014 – initially only in some EU Member States.

The Statewatch study also documented in detail the investments made by the Defence Agency (EDA) in European drone research up to 2014. More than €190 million in funding for drones on land, at sea and in the air has flowed since the EU military agency was founded. 39 projects researched technologies or standards to make the unmanned systems usable for civilian and military purposes. „Unmanned surveillance for Fortress Europe“ weiterlesen

Frontex Files: The Military-Border Police Complex

Following Freedom of Information requests, the EU Border Agency has released over one hundred presentations, most of which feature companies promoting their military technologies for securing Europe’s external borders. Deployments to counter migration use drones, satellites, high-resolution cameras and radars, pattern and behaviour recognition, and lead-free ammunition.

As announced in advance, the German TV „ZDF Magazin Royale“ published the „Frontex Files“ last night: a compilation of more than a hundred presentations given by a few dozen manufacturers of surveillance technology to the EU border agency over the past four years. Frontex regularly invites to so-called „Industry Days“, where the companies exchange information with interior ministries and border forces.

The documents come from freedom of information requests, brought to light by Luisa Izuzquiza, who works for Corporate Europe Observatory in Brussels, and Margarida Silva and Myriam Douo. With the platform „Frag den Staat“, Izuzquiza is being sued by Frontex for 24,000 Euros in legal fees after losing a case at the European Court of Justice. The agency was asked to provide information on which see-going units it deploys for migration defence in the Mediterranean. With the names of the ships, the activists wanted to track whether they were involved in illegal deportations back to Libya. Now the „Frontex Files“ are on the servers of „Frag den Staat“. „Frontex Files: The Military-Border Police Complex“ weiterlesen

Italy and Frontex now monitor the Mediterranean Sea with large drones

Last week, the EU Border Agency decided on the multi-year deployment of large drones in the Mediterranean, now Italy is following suit. The contractors have already carried out tests for Frontex over the past two years.

The Italian Ministry of the Interior is providing €7.2 million for the operation of drones in the central Mediterranean. The police and the financial police, who is also responsible for border security, will use the unmanned aerial vehicles by day and night against irregular migration from countries such as Libya and Tunisia. The EU Commission is funding 50% of the procurement with money from the Internal Security Fund.

The contract was apparently awarded to the Italian arms company Leonardo. The firm is to provide up to 1,800 flight hours for an initial year. The drones will be stationed at the Sicilian airports of Trapani, Lampedusa or Ragusa. The Ministry of the Interior demands a deployment radius of about 550 kilometres. The contract has an initial term of one year and can be extended twice. „Italy and Frontex now monitor the Mediterranean Sea with large drones“ weiterlesen

EU pays for surveillance in Gulf of Tunis

A new monitoring system for Tunisian coasts should counter irregular migration across the Mediterranean. The German Ministry of the Interior is also active in the country. A similar project in Libya has now been completed. Human rights organisations see it as an aid to „pull backs“ contrary to international law.

In order to control and prevent migration, the European Union is supporting North African states in border surveillance. The central Mediterranean Sea off Malta and Italy, through which asylum seekers from Libya and Tunisia want to reach Europe, plays a special role. The EU conducts various operations in and off these countries, including the military mission „Irini“ and the Frontex mission „Themis“. It is becoming increasingly rare for shipwrecked refugees to be rescued by EU Member States. Instead, they assist the coast guards in Libya and Tunisia to bring the people back. Human rights groups, rescue organisations and lawyers consider this assistance for „pull backs“ to be in violation of international law.

With several measures, the EU and its member states want to improve the surveillance off North Africa. Together with Switzerland, the EU Commission has financed a two-part „Integrated Border Management Project“ in Tunisia. It is part of the reform of the security sector which was begun a few years after the fall of former head of state Ben Ali in 2011. With one pillar of this this programme, the EU wants to „prevent criminal networks from operating“ and enable the authorities in the Gulf of Tunis to „save lives at sea“. „EU pays for surveillance in Gulf of Tunis“ weiterlesen

Frontex Aerial Service: Reconnaissance for the so-called Libyan coast guard

The EU Border Agency charters private aircraft to monitor the EU’s external borders. First Italy and Croatia have ordered the flights, now Frontex also flies in the Aegean Sea, above the Black Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The service will soon be supplemented by large drones.

Five years ago, Frontex installed a new service for the monitoring of the EU’s external borders. For flights of this „Frontex Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS), the agency charters twin-engine airplanes from European companies. Initially, the private aircraft were deployed on EU missions in the maritime „pre-frontier area“ of the European Union. These missions „Poseidon“, „Themis“ and „Indalo“ are under the leadership of Greece, Italy and Spain. Normally, all planes and helicopters inserted there come from police or border police from the EU Member States.

With the FASS airplanes, Frontex for the first time used their own assets, which is possible after a change of the Frontex regulation in 2016. Since 2017, Frontex offers the FASS service in bilateral agreements to EU Member States. Their operational differs from a regular Frontex mission, the agency sends the chartered surveillance flights in the central Mediterranean also to the Libyan Sea rescue zone and thus further south than in „Themis“. „Frontex Aerial Service: Reconnaissance for the so-called Libyan coast guard“ weiterlesen

Frontex aircraft: Below the radar against international law

For three years, Frontex has been chartering small aircraft for the surveillance of the EU’s external borders. First Italy was thus supported, then Croatia followed. Frontex keeps the planes details secret, and the companies also switch off the transponders for position display during operations.

The European Commission does not want to make public which private surveillance planes Frontex uses in the Mediterranean. In the non-public answer to a parliamentary question, the EU border agency writes that the information on the aircraft is „commercially confidential“ as it contains „personal data and sensitive operational information“.

Frontex offers EU member states the option of monitoring their external borders using aircraft. For this „Frontex Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS), Frontex charters twin-engined airplanes from European companies. Italy first made use of the service in 2017, followed a year later by Croatia. In 2018, Frontex carried out at least 1,800 flight hours under the FASS, no figures are yet available for 2019. „Frontex aircraft: Below the radar against international law“ weiterlesen

Drones for Frontex: Unmanned migration control at Europe’s borders

Instead of providing sea rescue capabilities in the Mediterranean, the EU is expanding air surveillance. Refugees are observed with drones developed for the military. In addition to numerous EU states, countries such as Libya could also use the information obtained.

It is not easy to obtain majorities for legislation in the European Union in the area of migration – unless it is a matter of upgrading the EU’s external borders. While the reform of a common EU asylum system has been on hold for years, the European Commission, Parliament and Council agreed to reshape the border agency Frontex with unusual haste shortly before last year’s parliamentary elections. A new Regulation has been in force since December 2019, under which Frontex intends to build up a „standing corps“ of 10,000 uniformed officials by 2027. They can be deployed not just at the EU’s external borders, but in ‘third countries’ as well.

In this way, Frontex will become a „European border police force“ with powers that were previously reserved for the member states alone. The core of the new Regulation includes the procurement of the agency’s own equipment. The Multiannual Financial Framework, in which the EU determines the distribution of its financial resources from 2021 until 2027, has not yet been decided. According to current plans, however, at least €6 billion are reserved for Frontex in the seven-year budget. The intention is for Frontex to spend a large part of the money, over €2 billion, on aircraft, ships and vehicles. Continue at Statewatch (PDF)

Customs Union: 27 countries „work together as if they were one“

Customs authorities are seen as „gatekeepers of EU borders for the flow of goods“. They increasingly rely on „risk analysis“ and new information systems. Now the EU customs cooperation with police and border authorities will be enhanced.

Since 1968, the European Economic Community has been a Customs Union for industrial products, and from 1970 for agricultural products as well. All customs formalities at the internal borders of the member states have been dropped. Even the level of customs duties at the external borders, on which all countries had previously decided on their own responsibility, has since been regulated by a common customs tariff.
The framework for today’s EU customs union is the Union Customs Code (CCC) adopted in 1992. It provides uniform rules for customs tariffs on imports from outside the EU. The European Commission constantly proposes updated customs regulations and monitors their implementation. The Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD) in Brussels has responsibility for this. It also operates the tariff system (TARIC3), which displays the current rates.

Customs duties are generally paid where the goods first arrive. The revenue generated is considered the EU’s „traditional own resources“ and covers around 14 percent of its total budget. The member states retain 20 percent of this amount for expenses incurred by their customs authorities and their control activities. In 2016, for example, the EU collected around 25 billion euros in customs duties, leaving 20 billion after deduction of national expenditure. In the last three years, around four billion euros of the total revenue came from Germany. „Customs Union: 27 countries „work together as if they were one““ weiterlesen

Against Migration: EU drone crashed in Crete

Frontex wants to station its own drones in the Mediterranean. Until then, the EU border agency will use a drone service provided by the Maritime Safety Agency. This service is also being expanded; numerous European governments have now ordered drone missions.

A long-range drone, which monitors Greek maritime borders on behalf of the EU border agency Frontex, crashed during take-off. This was reported by the Greek platform Protothema which documented the crash on January 8 with a photo. According to the image, it was a „Hermes 900“ of the Israeli armament company Elbit.

The report states that the incident occurred on the runway of Tympaki airport in Crete. Protothema says the possible cause was a malfunction in the propulsion system or human error. The aircraft is said to have been severely damaged and will be replaced within two weeks. However, there have been no reports as to when the drone surveillance of Crete was resumed. „Against Migration: EU drone crashed in Crete“ weiterlesen