Wednesday, 9 May 2007

UK Wants European Border Intervention Teams to Control Borders

On 20 April 2007, the Justice and Home Affairs Council agreed on the creation of Rapid Border Intervention Teams. The European Parliament has also approved a report in the April Plenary Session on the Draft Regulation establishing a mechanism for the creation of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs) and amending the Council Regulation for that mechanism.

The Draft Regulation stresses that Member States “should have the possibility to request the deployment, in the framework of the Agency, of Rapid Border Intervention Teams comprising specially trained experts from other Member States to its territory to assist its national border guards on a temporary basis.” However, this action occurs in very exceptional and urgent situations, such as when a Member State has to deal with a huge influx of non-EU nationals trying to enter illegally.

In this context, the Rapid Border Intervention Teams would provide a rapid and effective response. The Draft Regulation establishes that the Rapid Border Intervention teams should gather Member States financial means and human resources to act in emergency situations at the EU’s external borders. Therefore, under the principle of “mandatory solidarity”, Member States will have to contribute deploying trained border guards at the request of the agency for external borders, FRONTEX.

The border guards’ salaries of those teams deployed in a host country will be paid by the countries of origin but the operation additional costs such as travel expenses and insurance will be paid by FRONTEX. As the European Parliament and the Council have reached an agreement on first reading, the regulation would be adopted as soon as possible in order to have the teams operational by the summer.

The UK does not take part in the adoption of this regulation, and therefore, is not bound by it. However, Ms Joan Ryan, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, has explained to the European Scrutiny Committee “that the Government will not be opting into the draft Regulation because the UK was excluded from participation in the FRONTEX Regulation and the Government's challenge to the exclusion has not yet been decided by the European Court of Justice.”

The action was brought on 17 February 2005 against the Council of the European Union (Case C-77/05). The UK is seeking the annulment of the Border Agency Regulation (under Article 230 EC) as its exclusion from the adoption of the Regulation entails the “infringement of an essential procedure requirement.” The UK has argued that “the Council acted on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the relationship between Article 5 and Article 4 of the Schengen Protocol.”

The protocol attached to the Amsterdam Treaty made special provisions for the UK and Ireland which were not parties to the Schengen agreement and Convention. Hence, they were not bound by the Schengen acquis unless the Government expressly decides to opt in. Nevertheless, as David Heathcoat-Amory has said “the British Government has opted into 48 immigration and asylum measures and once a decision has been taken by the Government to opt into a particular EU measure, it is irreversible.”

If the European Court of Justice sustains the UK’s challenge, the government wants to opt into the RABITs. Moreover, the government wants the UK border officers to participate in RABITs on a case by case basis. Consequently, the government “has proposed a council declaration, to be added to the protocols when the measure is adopted at the June Council, repeating the UK's support for Frontex, highlighting the participation of the UK in Frontex activities, and inviting the agency and its management board to explore ways in which the UK can likewise practically support the operations of RABITs.”

Why does the UK Government want to opt into such a scheme of regulations? Well, the government support for RABITs is not purely altruistic – it wants to protect the UK from those who want to enter into this country after they have first got illegally into another Member State. But the central question remains – why should the UK lose further control of its borders?

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