Measures to improve EU external border management discussed in Sofia
State Secretary Dr Branko Lobnikar attended a ministerial conference in Sofia to discuss measures for more effective management of the external borders of the European Union.
In recent years, the EU has faced various challenges affecting the effectiveness of the management of its external borders. The war in Ukraine, instability in neighbouring regions and the instrumentalisation of migration for political purposes remain the main factors behind the increase in migration flows into the EU. Joint and coordinated action by EU Member States and Schengen associated countries, with strong support from the European Commission and the competent EU home affairs agencies, is therefore crucial for the effective protection of the EU's external borders and a high level of internal security.
Participants agreed that much has been done so far to establish a sustainable border management system and to make the EU more resilient to various risks. The enlarged European legal framework has provided new instruments for the protection of external borders and migration management, and has fostered closer cooperation between Member States' law enforcement authorities, including in the fight against organised crime. Important progress has been made by strengthening the mandates of the European Police Office (Europol) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). The EU will also respond more effectively to security challenges through new information technology and the project of information systems interconnectivity (interoperability), which will be finalised next year.
A number of legal instruments are already being used to a large extent successfully, but some still need to be adopted or implemented. While working towards the conclusion of negotiations on relevant legislative acts, including the revision of the Schengen Borders Code and the Regulation on the screening of third-country nationals at external borders, it is worthwhile to consider additional proactive measures at EU level, as discussed at the conference.
As State Secretary Dr Branko Lobnikar said, Member States at the EU's external borders bear a major responsibility for securing these borders and must therefore be adequately equipped. Frontex has an important role to play in this respect, providing assistance in external border protection and return, and working together with Europol to combat cross-border crime. "For our part, we have a responsibility to staff permanent Frontex units wherever they are deployed at the EU's external borders."
The participants agreed that better management of the EU's external borders would limit secondary movements of irregular migrants. "We agree with the European Commission on the need to achieve full registration of irregular arrivals of third-country nationals at the EU's external borders," said Dr Lobnikar, welcoming the European Commission's idea of pilot schemes for the application of fast-track procedures at borders, which will be introduced in the first half of this year. "Ensuring effective return of persons who are not in possession of residence permits, while fully respecting fundamental rights, is also of key importance to us. We need to ensure mutual recognition of return decisions and work more closely together to improve the overall rate of return from the EU."
Another challenge highlighted by the participants was the smuggling of migrants, often linked to other forms of organised crime. The growing threat from organised crime, including the war in Ukraine and instability in neighbouring regions, requires us to make full use of existing tools to maintain a high level of internal security. "The operational value of the existing partnerships with third countries to fight smuggling, in particular with the Western Balkans, is clear. We call on the European Commission to provide resources for their successful implementation," said the State Secretary.