Frontex gears up for big expansion

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As part of a beefed-up mandate that came into effect this month, Frontex, the Warsaw-based EU border agency, is expanding to set up a 10,000-strong corps of border and coast guards. Along with fighting cross-border crime and terrorism, the organization plays a key role in handling one of the most contentious issues facing the EU: migration.

The dramatic expansion of Frontex from a staff of about 750 — decided under the EU’s previous leadership — is the result of an effort to find common ground on a highly polarizing topic that placed severe strain on the bloc during the crisis of 2015. EU leaders are divided on whether migrants and asylum seekers should be distributed across the bloc or stay in their country of arrival, but they agree that the bloc’s borders should be well-protected.

Nevertheless, even some leaders who stress the importance of border security are wary of the Frontex expansion. They argue that deciding who enters a country must be the preserve of national governments. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán last year accused Brussels of wanting to take away his country’s control of its frontiers.

“We don’t have a military army, but we will have, let’s say, civilian troops wearing a European uniform. And for certain functions carrying weapons,” Fabrice Leggeri, Frontex’s executive director, told POLITICO in an interview at the agency’s Brussels office.

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