Can Europe stay border-free internally if it can’t guarantee its shared external border? That’s one of the key questions facing the European Union as it struggles with the ongoing migrant and refugee crisis. As Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov put it in 2016: Schengen cannot survive if Europe becomes “a yard with a broken fence”.
Currently, the external border of the EU is patrolled by the border and coast guards of the various Member States, supported by and in coordination with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (more commonly known as ‘Frontex’). Recently re-tooled and re-launched in 2016, Frontex now has an annual budget of over €300 million euros. Which seems like a lot of money. However, by comparison, the United States Coast Guard on its own (i.e. not including US Border Patrol) has an annual budget of more than €8 billion.
The comparison is perhaps a little unfair on Frontex. The US Coast Guard is estimated to be the 12th largest navy in the world, and is regularly deployed in armed conflicts internationally. Nevertheless, would a single European agency with a larger budget be more effective at policing Europe’s coastal waters?
In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.
This week, we are looking at Lampedusa, Italy. For a long time, Lampedusa has been famous as an island on the “frontlines” of the refugee crisis. The numbers of people reaching Italian waters by boat does seem to be slowing; less than 11,000 people reached Lampedusa in the whole of 2016. Nevertheless, roughly 400,000 people have arrived there over the last two decades, while an estimated 15,000 have died attempting the crossing.
Should Europe have a single, common coast guard? Or are national coast guards (in coordination with Frontex) enough? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!