The EU’s border control agency, Frontex, will now be able to own or lease its own equipment and not be dependent any longer on the goodwill of member states to perform its operations.

This is one of a series of changes to be introduced in the coming months following the approval of proposals by the European Parliament and the 27 member states on an upgrading of the agency’s role and tools.

The agreement arrived after six sessions of tough negotiations between the EP and the Council of Ministers represented by the outgoing Hungarian presidency. For the first time, a Maltese MEP, Simon Busuttil, led the team of negotiators on behalf of the EP.

Dr Busuttil said the changes would make the agency more effective. Through the compromise, the 300-member strong Frontex will be able to purchase or hire equipment such as cars, ships and helicopters. It may also opt to buy assets jointly with a member state.

Under a new mechanism, member states will have to assist national border guards and provide more equipment. For example, once Frontex and a member state agree on an annual programme, the state will have to provide the equipment requested by the agency, except in the case of a major problem at national level. This will help to avoid unpleasant situations. Over the past years, some member states failed to keep the promises they made earlier to dedicate assets and personnel to Frontex missions.

The equipment available to the agency will now be listed in a centralised technical equipment registry and Frontex will co-direct joint operations or pilot projects with states.

The amendments will also introduce greater clarity on the agency’s tasks, the respective responsibilities of Frontex and of member states, the composition of teams, command and control, mechanisms for reporting, evaluating and notifying incidents, technical equipment and the applicable court. Member states also accepted provisions on fundamental rights, including the designation of a fundamental rights official for Frontex operations.

As requested by member states, particularly France, the agency will play a role in coordinating joint operations for returning illegal immigrants to their home country “while fully respecting fundamental rights”. It will also launch technical assistance projects and initiatives for the deployment of liaison agents to the third countries from which an influx of migrants originates.

In past years, Frontex coordinated a number of anti-illegal migration missions off the coast of Malta. However, the missions had been hampered by problems, particularly due to the lack of resources dedicated by other member states and on which country should be responsible for those saved during such operations. Following a change in the agency’s guidelines, stating that a host member state should also be responsible to take all those saved in its operations, Malta has so far twice refused to host a mission.

The new amendments will not change this situation and the Maltese government has already made it clear it is not interested in hosting any mission under the rules of engagement in place. The majority of member states disagree with Malta’s stand.

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