Frontex – new customer for the arms industry

Last week the European Parliament voted largely in favour of a stronger mandate for Frontex, the EU border control agency. One of the changes is that Frontex is now allowed to buy or lease its own equipment, such as patrol boats and helicopters. New opportunities for the defense industry!

Before Frontex was completely depending on EU member states for the provision of its equipment. While its new European Border Guard Teams will still consist of national border guards personnel provided by member states, having its own equipement means Frontex will now be more independent, with greater freedom to act. Frontex also gets an additional 24 million euro – on top if its 88,4 million euro budget for 2011 – to step up maritime surveillance.
The extra funding and the
expanded mandate of Frontex come in response to complaints by member state governments and right-winged politicians about its alleged inefficiency in stopping migration to Europe, and the call for strengthening of the EU’s external borders.

The increasing militarisation of border security, as well as growing overlap of defense and security matters – not only in the EU – makes this a rapidly growing market for the industry. Major profiteers include European defense company EADS, which provided communication equipment to both the Bulgarian and Romanian border guards and is involved in a major Saudi border patrol project. Other well-known defense companies have also moved into the border security business: Boeing is building a network of watchtowers to guard the US-Mexican border, Lockheed Martin has its own Border Enforcement Solutions Center and Thales is involved in EFFISEC, a border security research project financed under the EU Seventh Framework Program (FP7).
Now that Frontex can has its own procurement budget, new profit opportunities arise.

Meanwhile, Frontex operations, and EU asylum policies in general, are severely criticised by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International. Just this week HRW launched its new report: ‘The EU’s Dirty Hands: Frontex involvement in ill-treatment of migrant detainees in Greece’, in which it states “that Frontex activities in Greece do not meet the standards set out in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, by which Frontex is bound.”

It is very hard to believe that the installation of “a dedicated fundamental rights officer, to ensure that EU border checks respect human rights” will change much in this matter. After the vote in the European Parliament Ska Keller of the Greens said: “The measures adopted today to improve the guarantee of human rights on Frontex missions are half-hearted and unconvincing. At least 1,500 people have already died this year on Europe’s borders and, against this background, it is not acceptable that human rights protection should be an afterthought for the EU’s border agency.”

Frontex’ sole purpose is to keep as many refugees out of the EU as possible, meanwhile disregarding human rights and overlooking the reasons why people feel the need to escape their home countries. As German MEP Cornelia Ernst (Die Linke) stated in the debate about the new Frontex mandate: “We don’t need Frontex but a humanized refugee policy to deal with situations in Africa where people are living in dire conditions, an asylum system based on solidarity and a new neighbourhood policy more in tune with our values.”

[MA, 24 September 2011]