Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Ninth Report

CHAPTER 1: introduction

Historical background

1. National frontiers are hugely symbolic. They define the territory over which a state exercises sovereignty; they are an integral part of its identity; and they traditionally represent the point at which a person seeking to enter the country must demonstrate their admissibility.

2. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the arrangements for managing the external frontiers of the European Union (EU) have been a major preoccupation for the Member States since the early 1980s, when the Schengen members started to develop the idea of an area without internal frontiers, which was enshrined in the Schengen Agreement of 1985. This idea was taken up by the Community as a whole in 1986 in creating the Single Market, which the Single European Act defined as "an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty".[1]

3. This provision led to a long-running disagreement between the United Kingdom and Ireland on the one hand and the Commission and most of the other Member States on the other about whether it required the United Kingdom and Ireland to remove systematic controls on persons at their frontiers with other Member States. This dispute was not resolved until the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, when the United Kingdom and Ireland secured agreement to a Protocol to the Treaty entitling them to continue to exercise controls on persons at their frontiers with other Member States.[2]

4. Throughout this period a constant theme of the debate has been that the removal of controls at internal frontiers requires "compensating" or "flanking" measures to strengthen controls at the external frontier. Measures of this kind developed by the Schengen Member States, which formalised their agreement in the 1990 Schengen Convention, include:

  • the Schengen Manual, detailing procedures to be followed at the external frontier;
  • a common Schengen visa list ;[3]
  • the computerised Schengen Information System (SIS), primarily a database of "inadmissible aliens";
  • the cross-posting of liaison officers;
  • common training projects; and
  • joint operations.

5. Although Schengen was the driving force for these initiatives, there was some parallel activity within the EU as a whole, notably the abortive draft External Frontiers Convention, drawn up following the Single European Act, which sought to replicate for the Community generally the compensating measures developed by Schengen. The Convention eventually foundered on a disagreement between the United Kingdom and Spain on its application to Gibraltar, and on the inherent underlying conflict between the participation of the United Kingdom and Ireland in such arrangements and the retention of controls at their frontiers with other Member States.

6. At the level of practical cooperation, however, there have been a number of EU-wide developments, including recommendations agreed in 1997 on effective control practices at the external border for applicant countries, and in 1998 on the provision of forgery detection equipment; and the launching in 1998 of the Odysseus programme, which provided funding for common training measures, exchanges and studies in the area of external border crossings and controls.[4] Bilateral and multilateral cooperation has also continued, for example between the United Kingdom and France in the Channel area.

7. In 1997 the Treaty of Amsterdam brought the Schengen system into the European Union by incorporating the Schengen acquis into the EU Treaties. Since then increasing concern about illegal immigration and cross-border crime—and the implications of enlargement of the EU—have focused more attention on external border controls. In 1999 the Tampere European Council highlighted the relevance of external borders for strategies for combating cross-border EU crime and illegal immigration; and in the accession negotiations concerns over security at the new post-enlargement external borders featured prominently. (The new Member States will be required to adopt the full Schengen acquis. Border controls between them and the existing Member States will, however, not be removed on accession, but only when the existing Schengen Members[5] are satisfied that adequate controls at the external border are in place.)

8. The Draft Constitutional Treaty prepared by the Convention on the Future of Europe provides a specific legal base for "the gradual introduction of an integrated management system for external borders".[6] The precise meaning of that term, the extent to which there is a need for closer co-operation between the Member States in controlling the EU's external border, and, in particular, whether that co-operation should extend to the establishment of a European Border Guard are the subject of this report.

Previous reports

9. The Committee has undertaken two related inquiries in recent years: Schengen and the United Kingdom's Border Controls and Enlargement and EU external frontiers.[7] In revisiting the conclusions of those reports we were struck by the pace of change since then, particularly in the preparedness of the Accession States. Some of the conclusions we reached then still hold good, such as the importance of close ties between new Member States and their eastern neighbours, and the fact that frontier controls cannot bear the full weight of ensuring security in the EU, and we shall re-emphasize them in this report. Other conclusions, however, in particular that there was little likelihood of a multinational force being acceptable to the new Member States and that burden-sharing was likely to be unacceptable to some Member States, may now call for some qualification. We also took account of the report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee on border controls, which among other things, recommended closer integration of United Kingdom border services.[8]

Conduct of the inquiry

10. This inquiry was undertaken by Sub-Committee F of the Select Committee on the European Union, whose membership is shown at Appendix 1. We issued a call for evidence in January 2003, which is reproduced at Appendix 2. To see and discuss at first hand some of the issues arising at an existing external EU land border, members of the Sub-Committee visited the German/Polish border at Frankfurt an der Oder and had useful discussions in Berlin and Warsaw with members of the German and Polish Interior Ministries and Border Guards. We also received valuable written and oral evidence from a wide range of witnesses, a list of whom is at Appendix 3, to all of whom we would like to record our gratitude. We were again indebted for wise advice to our Specialist Adviser, Professor Jörg Monar, Co-Director of the Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex, who has assisted us in several previous inquiries.

1   Article 14, TEC. Back

2   Protocol 3 to the Treaty. Back

3   Comprising one list of third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa when crossing the Schengen external border and another of those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement. Back

4   Now replaced by the ARGO programme. Back

5   All the EU Member States other than Ireland and the United Kingdom. Back

6   Article III-161(1)(c) in the text of 27 May 2003 (Conv 725/03). For an analysis of the provisions of the draft Treaty relating to Justice and Home Affairs see The Future of Europe: Constitutional Treaty-Draft Article 31 and Draft Articles from Part 2 (Freedom, Security and Justice), 16th Report 2002-03, HL Paper 81. Back

7   7th Report 1998-99, HL Paper 37; 17th Report 1999-2000, HL Paper 110. Back

8   Border Controls, 1st report 2000-01, HC 163. Back

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