Frontex Standing Corps: A European Army in the Making?

  • Michal Beneš
  • 29.10.2020 13:42

While the world has been busy with a pandemic, the European Union has stepped up its efforts in security integration, establishing the first EU uniformed law enforcement service. While effectively laying down a setting stone and precedent for a European army.

An idea of a common European army has been circulating throughout the continent since the end of WW2. Despite the establishment of NATO in 1949, the Europeans already understood in the back of their minds that they could not  fully rely on the future goodwill of the world policemen, the United States. Which led to the proposals for the European Defence Community in 1950 and the Western European Union in 1954. 

Both of them ultimately failed to capitalize on the concept of a common security force, but the idea remains to this very day. Especially in the era of “Trump politics” and increasing American isolationism. Donald Trump has, on more than one occasion, proclaimed that he ‘does not care’ about Europeans. 

At Europe’s forefront, German chancellor Angela Merkel has been long pushing for further defence integration in the EU as a result, straining the relationship with the US even further. Since Trump took office, the Europeanization of continental security has thus far occurred via two institutions. The establishment of the Permanent Security Cooperation (PESCO) in 2018 and expansion of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) in 2016.


“Beginning in May 2020, Frontex  started to hire members of the first EU-wide law enforcement corps falling under the jurisdiction of the Union as a whole”


PESCO has so far focused on cooperation in rather non-conflict areas for member states, such as procurement, investment or voluntary defence projects out of which several countries opt-outs. Meanwhile, Frontex has in the last year achieved truly groundbreaking success in the reform of European security. Largely overshadowed by the CoVid-19, beginning in May 2020, Frontex started to hire members of the first EU-wide law enforcement corps falling under the jurisdiction of the Union as a whole and not a sole member state.

The new standing corps currently numbers around 700 law enforcement experts and is expected to grow to 3000 uniformed officers by 2027. Frontex also plans to increase the number of national secondments (short-term exchange of national border guards across the EU) to 7000 by the same year. 

Frontex officers are to perform the same duties as regular border guards, such as border control, search and rescue activities, fraud document detection or cross-border crime prevention. However, the shift from the model of national secondments to an all-time available standing corps will allow for a more efficient fight against transnational security threats to the Union as a whole.


“Frontex announces creation of the ‘EU police’ uniform, alongside with grand plans for its own equipment”

Aside from the groundbreaking personnel changes, Frontex is also revolutionizing its procurement of equipment. As of yet, the seconded Frontex officers took part in the agency’s operations in their national uniforms, with a distinctive light blue armband. For the new corps, this is changing, as Frontex announced the creation of the ‘EU police’ uniform. Alongside with grand plans for acquiring its own equipment ranging from planes, weapons, drones to ships. All being in the sole ownership of the agency, not a state. Indicating a further shift from the policy of national secondments in terms of personnel and resources.

Design of the new FRONTEX uniform. Copyright: EU Council


The significance of a standardized uniform lies in its effect on European identity. While different national border guard uniforms promoted the willingness of states to help each other. Common uniform will have an extensive psychological effect by portraying the EU as a unitary entity to the outside world. As well as promote a sense of belonging and common cause within the Union,something similar to what the Erasmus program has done.

Although, this might create some friction between the pro-integration Western and eurosceptic Eastern bloc. For France or Germany, EU integration is slow and not comprehensive enough. While for Visegrad, it sometimes goes way too far. The establishment of the uniformed corps is, therefore, a surprising compromise. It transfers some power from the states to the Union, something the V4 usually opposes. Nevertheless, Visegrad called for bolstering Frontex's powers, to tackle what is nationally an even hotter topic than EU integration, migration.


“Most of the Eastern and Central Europe remains in staunch opposition to the new EU migration pact”


Frontex standing corps can be thus called a logical and easy answer to more pressing security challenges that are to come in the future. After all, the secure external border is in the interest of everyone. Especially in the times in which the Southern nation’s borders were collapsing under the illegal immigration in past years. While most of the Eastern and Central Europe remains in staunch opposition to the new EU migration pact easing the trouble of their heavily indebted neighbours to the south.


Is a deeper Security Union coming?

Could this mean that more security initiatives are coming? That the member states will be willing to sacrifice another chunk of their power for the transnational benefit? Or will it only fan the nationalist bonfires already burning all across the continent, while blaming eurocrats in Brussels for everything? That depends on if the states will be able to see into the secure and European future and not just until the next elections while driving on the platform of EU-exit

The establishment of an independent uniformed service sets a powerful precedent for future projects and gives Europeans something they can identify with. The success of this initiative is crucial if the EU wants to embark on the path towards closer security integration, and one day, a European army. Failure on the other hand could  drive member states into the opposition; against further centralization of power.


There is no one else, aside from the European community, able to provide lasting security guarantees for the continent


A European army has, meanwhile, become an even hotter topic. The EU is entering into uncertain times. With the UK’s departure, most of the EU’s neighbourhood unstable (Crimea, Belarus, Caucasus, Balkans..), frozen conflicts in the Middle East and the uncertain United States. Even the usually eurosceptic Central European states might realize that there is no one else, aside from the European community, able to provide lasting security guarantees for the continent. 

Nonetheless, for the EU army to become a reality, the states need to undergo a comprehensive integration in many other fields, from economic or legal integration to standardization of military equipment first, so it is still far ahead. For the foreseeable future, we will probably see mostly small or medium-scale projects, like that of Frontex’s standing corps.

The cycle about European integration will bring you news and analyses of matters affecting European security.

About author: Michal Beneš


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