Belarus-Poland: Migrants detained attempting border crossing
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Brussels is attempting to navigate a border crisis between Poland, a member state, and Belarus, whom it has slapped harsh economic sanctions on. Migrants started appearing at the shared border between the two countries this summer. This was after the EU had already placed some sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus, citing human rights violations.
Recently, in his first appearance at the border, Mr Lukashenko told a number of migrants that they were free to head west or go home as they chose.
The country has again threatened to retaliate following further sanctions from the US, UK and other Western states.
Currently, as it is set up, the EU can do little more than impose penalties in reaction to Mr Lukashenko’s potentially destabilising exploits.
The bloc does have Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, but member states retain majority, if not all, control over their borders.
According to Frontex, it currently reduces the vulnerability of the bloc’s external borders based on “comprehensive situational awareness”, it guarantees safe, secure and well functioning EU borders, and plans and maintains European Border and Coast Guard capabilities.
But, in border crises, member countries retain the primary role of control and security — something at the heart of the EU’s makeup.
While Frontex’s Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri appeared at Poland’s border with Belarus in early October, the Polish authorities assured that they did not need Frontex’s assistance with border surveillance.
But the humanitarian crisis has continued to unfold.
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Professor Matthew Longo, a political scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, suggested that, while Frontex has for the past two decades taken a backseat role in border issues, in light of the problems seen in France and Poland, member states could well be on their way to empowering Frontex.
This would leave the EU with more influence within the bloc, a tighter grip over the area’s border zones.
He said that the more migrant crises hit Europe, the more likely it is that member states will pour money into the EU’s Frontex.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Prof Longo explained: “All these countries in the EU are managing internal flows within their own borders.
“Let’s say the Netherlands decides to have its Nexit: not only would it have to break an insane amount of agreements with its neighbours, all these very complicated collaborations, it’s not clear what it would get them.
“They’d have to put an enormous amount of expenditure into their own borders because nothing’s going to stop people from coming in at that point.
“They’d have to make the calculation that it’s more efficient for them to control their own borders than it would be to have a collaborative border force.
“And so my hunch is that we’re going to keep seeing member states pump money into Frontex and border control, and continue to consolidate those powers and get stronger.
“I actually think what will happen will go the opposite way to member states protesting the EU over migrant crises — I don’t think there’s any plausible exit story because the cost of exit is so much higher.”
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Many have already questioned why Frontex has not been at the forefront of efforts to resolve the Poland-Belarus border issue.
In a piece for Politico, Adam Bodnar, a professor of law at SWPS University and the former ombudsman of Poland, and Agnieszka Grzelak, a professor of law at Kozminski University and the former deputy director of the Constitutional, European and International Law department in the Ombudsman office, asked: “In Poland, where is Frontex?”
Hinting that the EU should take a more interventionist stance, they wrote: “Migration policy and the management of external borders are also within the scope of the European Union’s operations.
“And EU institutions and agencies, including Frontex, simply cannot ignore this problem any longer.”
In some countries, Frontex has an active hand in helping to monitor borders.
In Lithuania and Latvia, for example, Frontex figures carry out official observance and have access to data.
Prof Bodnar and Prof Grzelak said that while in principle “it should be the member country asking for Frontex assistance and cooperation,” in the case of Poland, “political pressure is necessary.”
Their words appear to echo Prof Longo’s suggestion that Frontex will eventually become empowered.
However, he did concede that, because of the way in which the EU is set up, it could be that member states resist Frontex.
He said: “It’s always possible that member states might push back against the EU if these crises continue.
“When the EU decided it wasn’t going to become anything polity-like, the idea that it would be able to secure a polity wide border was always a bit fanciful.
“It’s only now, 15 or 20 years later that Frontex is beginning to act even remotely like a consolidated border guard, but the idea that member states hold all the power and could pull out and dissent, is always there.
“In that sense I think it’s not just that member states might push back against Brussels over the border issue, I think it’s literally baked into the cake.”
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