Frontex: managing the EU’s external borders

frontex and EU borders

The role of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, is to help Schengen Area nations and EU member states manage their external borders.

Frontex shares intelligence with European countries as well as non-EU states affected by migration, with the aim of preventing illegal activity across frontiers.

The agency, which is based in Warsaw, was established in 2004 and expanded in 2016 in response to increased cross-border movement.

The name of the organisation, Frontex, comes from Frontières extérieures, French for “external borders.”

The information below provides a brief overview of the key features of Frontex and explains how, from 2022, the agency will work alongside ETIAS to make Europe even safer.

The role and function of Frontex

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency is in place to support border control in EU and Schengen associated countries.

Frontex facilitates travel whilst at the same time boosting security by strengthening frontiers.

The agency achieves this in several ways, as explained below.

Frontex carries out data analysis and risk assessment

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency analyses data on migration, border control, and international crime. Using this data, Frontex is able to carry out risk assessments and subsequently share the findings with member states.

The information is used by authorities in the EU when establishing and developing border practices.

Joint operations at sea, land, and air borders

Joint operations are set up in response to a potential risk identified during vulnerability assessments.

Frontex is involved in joint operations at European land, air, and sea borders. In each case, the aim is to prevent irregular migration. One way this is done is by detecting travellers using false documentation.

Specially trained officers use state-of-the-art technology to identify potentially dangerous individuals and stop them from entering Europe legally.

Planning and carrying out rapid border interventions

At times of extra pressure on an external frontier, such as many non-EU nationals attempting to enter Europe at once, a rapid intervention may be mobilized by Frontex.

In such cases, the member state is swiftly provided with Frontex officers and equipment to help resolve the situation.

Training border authorities across the European Union

Frontex assists with the training of European border guards and experts. Authorities work more effectively by receiving common training.

Uniform practices across Europe are also beneficial for travellers as they know what to expect at all EU boundaries.

Coordinating return operations to prevent irregular migration

The agency coordinates the return of migrants who are unable to remain in the European Union. This often involves working together with countries outside of the European Union.

This is important to keeping Europe safe from organised cross-border crime.

Are there border checkpoints in Europe?

European countries fall into 3 different groupings:

  • The continent of Europe
  • The European Union
  • The Schengen Area

A state might be part of 1, 2, or all 3 of these categories.

Europe as a continent is made up of 51 independent states which are either entirely in Europe or partially.

Of these 51 nations, 27 make up the EU and are joined by a political and economic union.

The Schengen Area is composed of 26 European countries, most of which are also EU members. The Schengen Area is a common travel area: it is possible to move between Schengen countries without being subject to border checks.

A number of the European countries most visited by Canadians are part of the Schengen agreement meaning that tourists can visit places such as Spain, Italy, and France on one trip to Europe.

Where there are open borders between European countries checkpoints are not in place. The role of Frontex, therefore, is to assist and strengthen external perimeters.

Some EU countries are not part of the Schengen Area, Canadian passport holders wishing to access territories such as Romania need to obtain the relevant documentation. Although Romania could join the Schengen Area soon, it is currently not part of the border-free arrangement.

The effect of Frontex on European travel

Canadians visiting Europe will come across Frontex when they cross the external EU border. If the point of entry is also a member of the Schengen Area, they will then be able to move freely from country to country within the borderless travel zone thanks to the absence of internal checkpoints.

This means that Canadians visiting only Schengen Area countries will encounter Frontex authorities just once where officers will check their documentation and welcome them to Europe.

Citizens of a number of non-EU territories, including Canada, can enter the European Schengen Area visa-free for up to 90 days. Currently, only a valid passport is required to enter the region but this is set to change from 2022.

The introduction of the European Travel and Information Authorisation System will further boost security across the Schengen Area. It will be mandatory for citizens of visa-waiver countries to apply for ETIAS, their data will then be cross-checked across international databases.

By pre-screening third-country nationals, potentially risky individuals can be stopped before even reaching the border of one of the ETIAS countries.

Together with Frontex, ETIAS will help to strengthen borders and make the Schengen Area even safer for European citizens and visitors.