Frontex flies under the radar
7 October 2010
Frontex anyone? What sounds like a brand of prophylactic actually is one – an EU body charged, among other chores, with keeping illegals out of Europe. Of French inspiration, a crunch of Frontières Exterières (ie External Borders), Frontex, in its own words, provides “particular added value (my italics) to the national border management systems of the Member States.”
In the UK, not even the richest sources on EU news, which spring, ironically enough, from the Eurosceptic press – The Telegraph etc – bother much about Frontex. And you could have easily overlooked a 3 October article from Le Monde reporting that on 28 September (i.e. nearly a week after the event) a Frontex chartered plane flew out of Warsaw to repatriate fifty-six Georgian citizens arrested in Poland, France, Austria and Germany. Frontex heads enthused that the Lithuanian Boeing 737 going for €100,000 was “the cheapest” on the market. Gil Arias Fernandez, vice-director, chirped that European capitals would no longer have to “carry the burden”, such is the “embarrassment, and even public disapproval”. You could tell he was really happy about this. After all, this was the first time the Warsaw based org became a de facto airline for foreign undesirables.
Human rights organisations have been watching Frontex for a few years though, and have commented on its rapidly expanding powers, its increased militarisation, its lack of transparency, and the absence of independent monitoring and democratic accountability of its power. For instance, since 2006, Frontex has overseen the extension of Europe’s external borders by using Spanish navy ships and helicopters to harbour hunt the Senegalese coast for boat refugees seeking passage to the Canary Islands. Like the best prophylatics, Frontex has remarkable stretch.
And as the Fernandez remarks imply, with their utter lack of self-consciousness, the “added value” for democratically elected governments is obvious. After all, when a state expels migrants, messy stuff happens like media coverage, open debate, and eventually an electorate holding it to account. Frontex’s calling card is that it takes the naughtiness out of the political issue that is immigration and turns it into a technical process that goes underneath the media radar. How about that?