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Member Article

External border surveillance: the EU’s wise choice to outsource

*Control of the EU’s outer borders has always been a challenge, and the Union is still quite far from being able to establish complete command of its gateways, for lack of a unified navy or coast guard force. So, what should the EU do? Well, exactly what it is doing: calling upon the vast, capable and numerous resources which are within the EU and handing the task to these companies. If Brussels does not have the necessary political power to man every post in Frontex with a watchman, it has the necessary means available, at the push of a button. * Frontex, also known as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCGA), handles the delicate, tedious and crucial task of controlling movements at the fringe of the EU. The economic prosperity of Europe, combined with the instability, insecurity and poverty of several regions, on the other side of the Mediterranean (1), have induced the hellish migrant routes which risk the lives of thousands every year. The slow reconstruction of Lebanon, the endless crisis of Somalia, Erythrea, Yemen, and conflicts the Sahel and Sahara bring migrants, in vast numbers, to risk their lives in crossing the Mediterranean on overcrowded ships. Criminal organizations make millions of this poverty (2), and Frontex finds itself confronted with a difficult challenge: ensuring the control of its borders, for the benefit of its member countries and to fight the criminal organizations Europe is faced with. After years of development, the EBCGA, has reached an operational level which enables it to make a difference, with a budget of nearly half a billion euros, and a staff of 1,000. Additionally, an operational command centre has been set up in Warsaw, Poland, to coordinate all actions. Naturally, as Frontex does not have its own force yet, it relies on the forces of EU countries, which are mobilized according to their availability.

In the absence of troops, Frontex has found another way to embody and implement its ambitions: call upon the resources, not of the European Union, but in the European Union.

The geographic size of the European Union makes the containment all the more difficult - a problem which the United States is confronted with as well. Once the political will has been formed, the matter becomes one of operational design: identifying the hot zones, gathering intelligence and providing decision-makers with the operational data they need to form an adequate strategy. Here, this critical work is achieved by the Risk Analysis Bureau, whose main task is to keep command out of the dark and provide the operational and up-to-date information necessary for the constantly necessary adaptations of strategy. One of the main targets of the risk analysis bureau is the identification, detection and tracking of criminal organizations, which are always finding new routes and ways into Europe. This forms a double problem: permeable borders, with ensuing economic instability, criminality, and security breaches, on the one hand - and the jeopardy of the migrants’ lives, as travelling conditions are criminally slapdash, on a regular basis. According to researcher Philip Connor: “The number of unauthorized immigrants living in Europe increased between 2014 and 2016, then leveled off to an estimated 3.9 million to 4.8 million in 2017” (3). Fellow researcher Simona Varrella adds the grim fact: “In the first two months of 2021, it was estimated that 250 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In 2020, the number of deaths amounted to 1.4 thousand. However, the accurate number of deaths recorded in the Mediterranean Sea cannot be ascertained. Between 2014 and 2018, for instance, about 12 thousand people who drowned were never found.” (4) The modus operandi chosen by the EU in response is therefore: designing the strategic approach, by the European parliament; the operational conception, led mainly by Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri and board members such as Marko Gasperlin, and finally: handing over missions to the operating companies.

In order to fight off this plague, the companies called upon must dispose of the necessary and complex means which the EU doesn’t own, organically. One of the most complex tasks, within the Frontex mission, is airborne surveillance: monitoring unauthorized crossings using aircraft and detection technology. Given the technical demands involved, for the operations to be carried out suitably, the selection process for the implementers is extremely harsh. Dutch EASP, led by CEO Pieter Voeten, is one of the small companies which Frontex relies on for its operational surveillance, as the company has the capacity for sensor integration, thanks to its partnerships. As reported by SMP, Pieter Voeten, Director of NL EASP AIR, stated: “The combined knowledge of this Dutch-Austrian partnership will lead to an enormous efficiency increase for Maritime Search & Rescue as well as ISR operations. Owing to the pairing of excellent equipment with the knowhow from both enterprises, this partnership will be highly beneficial to enhance future maritime surveillance operations for our European customers” (5).

Germany’s Aerodata is also called upon frequently by governments needing to master their borders. Aerodata recently modified several aircraft for Maltese armed forces, to upgrade their technical capacities. Navy recognition reported CEO Hans Stahl to have signed the deal with the Maltese government, which needed enhanced capacities to monitor movements at sea: “The platform will be a Beechcraft King Air B200 and will join the two aircraft of this type, already in service with Malta’s Armed Forces. The new platform will be equipped with a belly-mounted radar, a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) system, an SAR direction finder, satellite communication and data transmission systems, and other sensors that will allow it to carry out effectively surveillance and SAR missions” (6). But, beyond technical capacities, data security is also critical.

Finally, CAE Aviation is a Luxembourg-based company which has been offering aerial reconnaissance and surveillance services to government and intergovernmental organizations, such as NATO, and the EU, for about 15 years. Contacted by telephone, Laurent Aubigny, General manager for CAE Aviation, adds: “Our expertise dates from 2006 where CAE started (and still does) to provide ISR services to EUFOR. We have more than a hundred crews highly experienced in ISR missions, particularly maritime surveillance: we have indeed been involved in maritime surveillance missions for the following operations: Poseidon for EU Frontex, Atalanta for EUNAVFOR Somalia, Indalo for EU Frontex, and finally Sophia and Irini for EUNAVFOR MED.”

Border security is one of the EU’s challenges, on its road to sovereignty. Selecting operators outside the European Union - or worse yet: businesses involved with strategic competitors - could pose a serious sovereignty issue. Additionally, personal data is collected during monitoring operations, and the protection of such data is one of the pledges of the EU. Frontex therefore needs to be particularly observant of the practices, certifications and standards implemented within the companies it works with. Aerodata and EASP are both among the companies, specialized in surveillance and data collection, which are able to implement ICT data protection technologies within the services it offers. Moreover, they are based within the EU and have the necessary clearances for data collection - Frontex can therefore entrust them with sensitive tasks with no fear of sovereignty breeches.

Border control may well be the biggest current challenge for the EU. Demographic pressure is high, as are expectations from member countries as to what value Frontex can deliver. Given the agency’s lack of integrated force, it has found the solution to provide the service needed, while causing no breach in EU sovereignty: calling upon EU firms, selecting and vetting them thoroughly, and sending them into the field to protect the gates of Europe.

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911
  2. https://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/Migrant-Smuggling/Report_SOM_West_Africa_EU.pdf
  3. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/11/14/5-facts-about-unauthorized-immigration-in-europe/
  4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1082077/deaths-of-migrants-in-the-mediterranean-sea/
  5. http://easpair.aero/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/2017-10-09_NL_EASP_AIR_LaunchingPartner.pdf
  6. https://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/defence-news/year-2015-news/november-2015-navy-naval-forces-defense-industry-technology-maritime-security-global-news/3203-malta-buys-third-beechcraft-mpa-to-tackle-increased-refugee-numbers-crossing-the-mediterranean.html

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Kevin Wright .

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