Brussels, 7 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today unveiled a proposal to set up an integrated EU Corps of Border Guards.
The EU's Internal Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino said officials of the new force would have equal "public-order powers" -- including those of arrest -- in all member countries.
Vitorino said the move was necessary to improve internal EU security by better fighting cross-border organized crime and international terrorism, and improving the management of immigration. He said the move is not intended to block access to third-country nationals: "This is a totally different view from some protectionist, nationalist [view] that is against [the] freedom of movement of people. In a globalized world, we think this is the best way to guarantee [the] freedom of movement and at the same time security for our fellow citizens."
Vitorino said the EU was already investing heavily in improving border crossings between member countries, candidate countries and third countries. He said the Finnish-Russian border was a particularly successful example of how such improvements benefit citizens on both sides of the border.
Romano Prodi, the president of the commission, said today it was also essential to share the burden of patrolling the EU's external borders more equitably among member states. He said states with long external EU borders were carrying an unfair share of the burden, while others without external borders feel their security needs would be more efficiently guaranteed if they were involved in patrolling the EU's borders.
Prodi said the proposal is part of a wider EU drive, launched in late 1999 in Tampere, Finland, to better coordinate its immigration and integration policies and fight trafficking in human beings. He also pointed to a another proposal adopted recently by the commission aimed at harmonizing EU rules for the repatriation of illegal immigrants.
The proposal -- which Prodi described as a "long-term" objective -- must be approved by all 15 EU member states.
EU candidate countries would not become part of the integrated border management system on accession, but a few years later, when they join the EU's so-called Schengen visa regime.
Vitorino said the commission will recommend the setting up of a body of border control experts drawn from the member states. The body would look at how better to coordinate trans-national cooperation in the area, and also how to improve links between border controlling authorities and other law-enforcing agencies in the EU.
Vitorino said the EU would need to set up an academy to jointly train border guards, as well as harmonize the equipment used to monitor borders.
He said the planned Galileo satellite positioning system -- improved by the EU last month -- would make an important contribution to monitoring cross-border traffic, especially on the EU's vulnerable southern sea borders which are particularly attractive to illegal immigrants.