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Embargo: 00:01 Wednesday 5 March 2008

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659

UK MUST BE MORE INVOLVED IN FRONTEX TO PROTECT OUR POROUS BORDERS - LORDS EU COMMITTEE

The House of Lords EU Committee have today called on the Government and the Schengen nations to take steps to ensure that the UK participates more fully in the development and operations of Frontex, the EU's external border agency.

The Committee's report points out that Frontex has been successful in coordinating the operations of national border protection agencies, and that fuller UK involvement would be a positive step not only in protecting UK borders but also in ensuring that British experience contributes to the protection of EU borders generally, with all the challenges brought by an external land border of 8,000 km.

The report recognises that while full Schengen States take the view that freedom of movement within the EU should take priority over border security, the UK's position in taking the opposite view is undermined by the need to improve the way the United Kingdom's borders are at present safeguarded. The Committee argue that the highest priority should be given to remedying this, but see no reason for the Government to alter its decision not to opt in to the Schengen agreement.

The Committee generally praise the way Frontex has operated since its inception in 2005, pointing out that in a Europe with nearly all internal border controls abolished it is more important than ever that its external borders are effectively policed. However they call on Member States to not expect Frontex to take on their responsibilities in protecting their borders. They believe the proper role of Frontex is to coordinate national efforts, not to replace them.

Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee include:

  • Frontex has got off to a good start, but as a relatively new organisation it should now be allowed a period of consolidation. It cannot double its size and its work every year.
  • Operations in the Mediterranean have been valuable, but the larger Member States must do more to share the burden of those, especially Malta, which bear a disproportionate share of the burden of illegal migration.
  • Frontex's remit should not be widened to include anti-terrorism or other serious crime unless it is directly linked to illegal migration. But Frontex should be involved in combating organised crime which is aimed at facilitating and profiting from illegal migration.

Commenting, Lord Jopling, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee on Home Affairs, said:

"We have been impressed by the way Frontex has gone about its task of helping protect Europe's borders, but we think it could do an even better job with fuller UK involvement.

"Britain has a lot of experience of policing both sea and land borders, and this experience would be useful to Frontex as it coordinates the efforts of Member States efforts to prevent illegal immigration. We would like to see the Government working hard to overcome the Schengen States' reluctance to allow fuller UK participation in the work of Frontex, but we do not dissent from the Government's decision not to opt in to the Schengen agreement.

"Our visit to the juxtaposed British and French border controls at Calais showed that there are excellent new technologies deployed to prevent illegal migration to the UK. However we were surprised to find inadequate fencing, the replacement of which might prevent 1500 illegal immigrants a year from boarding lorries bound for Britain. This would be entirely in British interests. The British and French authorities must take immediate action to remedy this."

Notes to Editors

1. The report FRONTEX: the EU External Borders Agency is available from the Stationery Office, House of Lords EU Committee 9th report of session 2007/08, HL Paper 60.

2. The report will be available online shortly after publication at: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/lords_s_comm_f.cfm

3. The members of the Committee who conducted the inquiry are:

Lord Jopling (Chairman)

Lord Dear

Lord Harrison

Baroness Henig

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

Lord Marlesford

Lord Mawson

Lord Teverson

Baroness Tonge

Lord Young of Norwood Green

For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Jopling, please contact Owen Williams on 020 7219 8659.

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