Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, will be monitoring human trafficking on the English Channel from Wednesday. One of its planes will regularly fly over the coasts of France, Belgium and the Netherlands to detect smugglers’ networks.
Former MEP Ben Habib has previously highlighted Frontex, which requires staff to wear EU-branded uniforms, has all the hallmarks of “an EU Army”.
It follows the death of 27 people – 17 men, seven women and three children – who drowned while attempting to cross from France to the UK via the Channel last week.
In a crisis meeting on Sunday, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium agreed to work together to combat the growing threat from migrant smuggling gangs in Calais, northern France, which has hosted thousands of asylum seekers for decades.
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said: “We must prevent the loss of life and prevent chaos from reaching our external borders.”
She wrote in a blog post: “Migrant smuggling must be tackled by the EU together.
“It is not an issue for only some countries.
“Breaking down organised criminal smuggler networks can only be done in cooperation.
“Of course we have to discuss solutions with the UK too.”
But UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was not there for such discussions as her invite for the meeting with the EU’s interior ministers was retracted in response to an unfortunate move by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
He wrote a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron in which, as part of a five-step request, he asked for an agreement allowing “all illegal migrants to cross the Channel to be returned”.
What infuriated the French – as well as politicians at home – is that Mr Johnson tweeted the letter to Mr Macron before it had been officially sent.
The episode fuelled tensions between London and Paris and proved counterproductive to the two sides’ pledge to collaborate in preventing people from risking their lives in making the perilous Channel crossing.
French interior minister Gérald Darmanin said of the meeting, which was also attended by the police agency Europol: “This meeting was not anti-English. It was pro-European.
“European countries want to work with our British friends and allies.”
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Mr Darmanin confirmed a European aircraft would be sent to “fly over the area day and night” from Wednesday, December 1, and Frontex stressed possible reinforcements could be deployed to the ground if needed.
Fabrice Leggeri, the agency’s executive director, told BFMTV: “We are starting with a plane, but we can obviously go further.
“The states have mentioned the possible sending of people on the ground, that is one of the possible options.
“We can increase our support.”
Mr Leggeri said Frontex’s mission was also to “fight crime”, which could be done by “collecting personal data at the borders” that could then be provided to Member States.
The sharing of data aligns with the EU’s intention to further collaborate between nations.
Ms Johansson said: “More coordination, cooperation and information sharing is needed between police and law enforcement in member states.
“A week from now I will present an updated Police Cooperation Code to strengthen the mandate of police forces to work together.”
She said of the agency’s new role: “During the meeting in Calais it was confirmed that Frontex will provide a surveillance aircraft above the English Channel from this week on.
“Frontex can do more to support with surveillance, cameras, vessels, aircrafts, information sharing and staff.
“This would help in border surveillance and checks and also in search and rescue.”
When asked about potential actions with the UK, Frontex’s Mr Leggeri said no operations were possible with states that are not part of the EU or Schengen area without specific agreements.
Mr Darmanin told a press conference on Monday that, considering they could “not change our geography”, they were ready to resume “serious discussions” with the UK despite last week’s poor communication from Mr Johnson, which the interior minister dubbed “a mockery”.
He added: “We need to come to an understanding with our British friends and allies even though they have chosen to leave Europe.”
Additional reporting by Maria OrtegaInternet Explorer Channel Network