Tag Archives: Frontex Sea Border Rule

Statewatch Analysis – “New EU rules on maritime surveillance: will they stop the deaths and push-backs in the Mediterranean?”

Statewatch last month released a new Analysis of the EU Regulation for Frontex-coordinated surveillance of external sea borders which is scheduled for a plenary vote in the European Parliament in April.  The Analysis, written by Prof. Steve Peers, Univ. of Essex Law School, reviews the enhanced protections to be afforded to intercepted or rescued migrants relative to the earlier Council Decision which was annulled by the CJEU.  The Analysis also highlights concerns with various provisions within the Regulation, including:

  • One significant concern with the Regulation is due to the fact that “the Regulation does not contemplate the scenario of migrants being intercepted in the territorial waters of third States.”  (Frenzen’s Note: This raises a serious concern in regard to the push-back and interception practices which have been carried out for many years within the territorial waters of Mauritania and Senegal within Frontex’s Operation Hera.  Additionally, prior to the Libyan revolution, Libya authorised Italy to conduct joint maritime patrols within Libyan territorial waters.  It is safe to assume that Frontex and some EU Member States will continue to seek the ability to intercept migrant boats within the territorial waters of third States.);
  • While the Regulation requires that migrants intercepted in the territorial sea or contiguous zone of an EU Member State be disembarked in that Member State, “this [requirement] is subject to a crucial exception: it is possible under the Regulation that a vessel that has made it this close to a Member State could still be ordered to alter course towards another destination.”;
  • While the bulk of the EU’s asylum legislation does not apply [to interceptions which occur outside of the territorial sea of a Member State,] the EU’s qualification Directive does – since there is nothing in the text of that Directive to limit its territorial scope. But the wording of the Regulation is confusing in this regard, since it does not refer to the detailed text of that Directive but rather to general standards on non-refoulement, which are different from that Directive in some respects….”;
  • Member States are required to “use all means” to identify intercepted migrants, assess their particular circumstances, and inform them of the intended place of disembarkation, in order to give the migrants the opportunity to assert a non-refoulement claim.  The Regulation states that the Frontex operational plan, “where necessary,” must provide for interpreters and legal advisors on shore. “[T]he Council Presidency points out the ‘wiggle room’ granted by the words ‘where necessary’ and ‘use all means.’”

Click here or here for Statewatch Analysis.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, Analysis, Eastern Atlantic, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Mediterranean, Senegal, Spain

EU Mediterranean States Oppose Provisions of Proposed Frontex Sea Borders Regulation Relating to Rescue and Disembarkation

[16 Oct. UPDATE: The document from the six states opposing the proposed Regulation is available here.]

One week ago Commissioner Cecilia Malmström called for an “extensive Frontex search and rescue operation that would cover the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Spain.” Yesterday the ANSA news service reported that all six EU Mediterranean states (Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, France and Spain) have voiced opposition to the proposed Frontex Sea Borders Regulation (COM(2013) 197 final) and specifically to Articles 9 and 10 relating to “Search and Rescue Situations” and “Disembarkation.” ANSA reported that the six member states “expressed disapproval of the draft and called it ‘unacceptable for practical and legal reasons’.”  The six countries have reportedly taken the position that there is no need for further regulations pertaining to rescue at sea or post-rescue places of disembarkation since other international laws already “deal ‘amply’ with the matters.”

As you may recall, the earlier version of the Frontex Sea Borders Rule in the form of a Decision was adopted by the European Council in 2010 (Decision 2010/252/EU).  The Decision was subsequently annulled by the Court of Justice of the European Union on the ground that it introduced new essential elements into the Schengen Borders Code by way of the provisions on interception, rescue and disembarkation and that such substantive changes required the consideration and approval of the European Parliament. (European Parliament v Council of the European Union, Case C-355/10, 5 Sept. 2012). The proposed replacement for the annulled Decision is in the form of a Regulation but is fairly similar in content.

While the ANSA report does not identify the specific reasons why the six states are opposing the proposal, one can speculate that the objections to Art. 9, Search and Rescue Situations, may be based on a perception that it would expand the obligation to rescue under certain circumstances.  For example the Article requires that even in the absence of a distress call, a rescue operation might still be required if other factors are present, including:

  • the seaworthiness of the ship and the likelihood that the ship will not reach its final destination;
  • the number of passengers in relation to the type and condition of the ship;
  • the availability of necessary supplies such as fuel, water, food to reach a shore;
  • the presence of passengers in urgent need of medical assistance;
  • the presence of deceased passengers;
  • the presence of pregnant women or children.

The objections by the six states to Art. 10 regarding places of disembarkation are most likely due to the states’ conflicting positions regarding where disembarkation should occur.  While Art. 10 creates a procedure for decisions regarding places of disembarkation to be made by participating member states in advance of joint operations, its provisions identify circumstances under which disembarkation in member state may occur when that state is not participating in the joint operation.  Malta and Italy in particular have long disagreed on where disembarkations are to occur.  This long standing disagreement obviously contradicts the claims made by the six opposing states that existing international laws already deal “amply” with the disembarkation issue.

Click here for ANSA article.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, Cyprus, European Union, France, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Spain

European Commission’s Second Biannual Report on Schengen Area

The European Commission released its “Second biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area” covering the period 1 May 2012-31 October 2012.  (COM(2012) 686 final, 23.11.2012)  The first reporton the Schengen area was released in May of this year.  (COM(2012) 230 final, 16.5.2012)

Here are a few excerpts from the 8 page document:

The Commission intends to present a legislative proposal in early 2013 to replace the Frontex sea border operations rule (Council Decision 2010/252/EU) that was annulled by the Court of Justice on 5 September 2012;

Subsequent to the issuance of a letter of formal notice to Greece in October 2009 in response to “allegations of serious difficulties faced by migrants in applying for asylum and ill-treatment of asylum-seekers, including the turning back of persons who may face serious harm or persecution”, the Commission is continuing to analyse the situation “in the light of constant developments, such as the progress made in the implementation of the Greek National Action Plan.”;

Subsequent to a Commission request to Italy in July 2009 “to provide information on the measures to avoid the risk of refoulement” and the February 2012 European Court of Human Rights decision in the Case of Hirsi v. Italy, “[a]gainst this background, the Commission is now analysing the implications of this ruling on border surveillance operations at sea and on the asylum acquis.

Click  here or here for Second Report.

Click here for First Report.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Judicial, Libya, Mediterranean, Reports

EU Court of Justice Annuls Frontex Sea Borders Rule – EU Parliamentary Approval Required (28.11.2012 update)

[UPDATE 28 November 2012: The European Commission intends to present a legislative proposal in early 2013 to replace the annulled Frontex sea border operations rule (Council Decision 2010/252/EU).  See EC’s “Second biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area” covering the period 1 May 2012-31 October 2012.  (COM(2012) 686 final, 23.11.2012)]

The EU Court of Justice, Grand Chamber, issued a judgment on 5 September 2012 annulling Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by [Frontex] (OJ 2010 L 111, p. 20), i.e. the Frontex Sea Borders Rule.  ECJ Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi issued an Opinion on 17 April 2012 recommending that the Court annul the Rule.

The Court concluded that the provisions of the contested rule were not minor, non-essential provisions, but instead “constitute[d] a major [new] development in the [Schengen Borders Code] system” and which therefore required the consideration and approval of the European Parliament.

The Court stated that the Schengen Borders Code (“SBC”) as it currently stands “does not contain any rules concerning the measures which border guards are authorised to apply against persons or ships when they are apprehended….”  The contested rule “lays down the measures which border guards may take against ships [authorising] ships to be stopped, boarded, searched and seized…”  The contested rule “lays down rules on the disembarkation of the persons intercepted or rescued …stating that priority should be given to disembarkation in the third country from where the ship carrying the persons departed.”

The Court said the adoption of such rules conferring “enforcement powers on border guards …entails political choices falling within the responsibilities of the European Union legislature, in that it requires the conflicting interests at issue to be weighed up on the basis of a number of assessments. Depending on the political choices on the basis of which those rules are adopted, the powers of the border guards may vary significantly, and the exercise of those powers require authorisation, be an obligation or be prohibited, for example, in relation to applying enforcement measures, using force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location. In addition, where those powers concern the taking of measures against ships, their exercise is liable, depending on the scope of the powers, to interfere with the sovereign rights of third countries according to the flag flown by the ships concerned. Thus, the adoption of such rules constitutes a major development in the SBC system.”

The Court also noted that “the powers conferred in the contested [rule] mean that the fundamental rights of the persons concerned may be interfered with to such an extent that the involvement of the European Union legislature is required.”

For these reasons the Court decided that the “contested [rule] must be annulled in its entirety because it contains essential elements of the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States which go beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC, and only the European Union legislature was entitled to adopt such a decision.”

The Court ordered “the effects of the contested [rule] [to]  be maintained until the entry into force, within a reasonable time, of new rules intended to replace the contested decision annulled by the present judgment.”

Click here or here for Judgment.

Extensive Excerpts from Judgment:

THE COURT (Grand Chamber), composed of V. Skouris, President, A. Tizzano, J.N. Cunha Rodrigues, K. Lenaerts, J.-C. Bonichot and A. Prechal, Presidents of Chambers, R. Silva de Lapuerta, K. Schiemann, E. Juhász, G. Arestis, T. von Danwitz (Rapporteur), M. Berger and E. Jarašiūnas, Judges,

Advocate General: P. Mengozzi,

having regard to the written procedure and further to the hearing on 25 January 2012, after hearing the Opinion of the Advocate General at the sitting on 17 April 2012, gives the following Judgment

1. By its action, the European Parliament seeks the annulment of Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by [FRONTEX] (OJ 2010 L 111, p. 20, ‘the contested decision’).

2. [***] The Parliament submits that the provisions of the contested decision ought to have been adopted by the ordinary legislative procedure and not by the comitology procedure based on Article 12(5) of the SBC [Schengen Borders Code].

I – Legal context

A – Decision 1999/468/EC

3.-7. [***]

B – The SBC

8.-16.[***]

C – Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004

17.-21.[***]

D – The contested decision

22.-29.[***]

II – Forms of order sought by the parties and the procedure before the Court

30. The Parliament claims that the Court should:

– annul the contested decision;

– order that the effects of the contested decision be maintained until it is replaced, …

31. The Council contends that the Court should:

– dismiss the Parliament’s action as inadmissible;

– in the alternative, dismiss the action as unfounded, …

32.[***] the Commission was granted leave to intervene in support of the form of order sought by the Council and, in its statement in intervention, it requests the Court to dismiss the Parliament’s action …..

III – The action

A – The admissibility of the action

33.-40.[***]

41. It follows from the above that the action for annulment must be declared to be admissible.

B – Substance

1. Arguments of the parties

42. [***]

(a) As regards the principles governing the implementing powers

43. The Parliament submits that the regulatory procedure with scrutiny can have as its subject-matter the modification or removal of non-essential elements of a basic instrument or the addition of new non-essential elements, but not the modification of the essential elements of such an instrument. [***]

44.-45.[***]

46. The Commission contends that [it has] the power to put flesh on the bones of the essential elements which the co‑legislators have chosen not to detail in extenso . It is authorised to supplement those elements and to regulate new activities within the scope of the essential subject-matter and of the essential rules.

(b) As regards the contested decision

47. Although the Parliament does not challenge the objectives of the contested decision, it takes the view that its content ought to have been adopted by means of a legislative act and not by an implementing measure. That decision goes beyond the scope of the implementing powers referred to in Article 12(5) of the SBC because it introduces new essential elements into that code and alters essential elements of the SBC as well as the content of the Frontex Regulation.

(i) Introduction of new essential elements into the SBC

48. As regards the introduction of new essential elements into the SBC, the Parliament submits that Parts I and II to the Annex of the contested decision lay down measures which cannot be considered to be within the scope of border surveillance as defined by the SBC or to be a non‑essential element of that code.

49. Thus, …, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision does not merely lay down detailed practical rules of border surveillance but grants border guards far‑reaching powers. The SBC is silent as to the measures which might be taken against persons or ships. However, the contested decision lays down far-reaching enforcement measures, yet does not ensure the right of persons intercepted on the high seas to claim asylum and associated rights, whereas, in accordance with Article 13 of the SBC, returning the persons concerned to the country from where they came can only arise in the context of a formal refusal of entry.

50. In addition, the rules relating to activities such as search and rescue and disembarkation in Part II to the Annex of the contested decision do not, in the Parliament’s view, fall within the concept of surveillance. Even though the title of Part II contains the word ‘guidelines’, Part II is binding and is intended to produce legal effects as against Member States which participate in an operation coordinated by the Agency, due to its wording, the fact that it is contained in a legally binding instrument, and the fact that it forms part of an operational plan provided for by the Frontex Regulation. The contested decision thus contains essential elements of the SBC and could not therefore be regulated in an implementing measure.

51. In addition, the Parliament submits that the contested decision exceeds the territorial scope of the SBC . In accordance with Article 2(11) of the SBC, surveillance is limited to the surveillance of borders between border crossing points and the surveillance of border crossing points outside the fixed opening hours, whereas, in accordance with paragraph 2.5 of Part I to its Annex, the contested decision applies not only to territorial waters, but also to contiguous zones and to the high seas.

52. [***]

53. [***] The Council contends that the argument alleging an extension of the territorial scope of the SBC is unfounded, since that code does not define the concept of a sea border, which must be understood as applying also to border surveillance carried out in the contiguous zones as well as on the high seas.

54. [***] Admittedly, helping ships in distress is not a surveillance measure in the narrow sense. However, if such a situation were to occur during a surveillance operation coordinated by the Agency, it would be indispensable to coordinate in advance how the search and rescue was conducted by various participating Member States. In those circumstances, the Council takes the view that the contested decision does not introduce new elements into the SBC.

55. The Commission contends that border surveillance is an essential element of the SBC, but that the essential rules governing that matter are found in Article 12 of the SBC which lays down provisions regarding the content as well as the object and purpose of the surveillance without serving to regulate that surveillance extensively and exhaustively. The co-legislators conferred on the Commission the power to supplement those essential elements. The power to regulate new activities allows the Commission to regulate the content of border surveillance and to define what that activity entails.

56. The Commission contends that the contested decision does not introduce new essential elements into the SBC. Surveillance must, in the light of its purpose, not only encompass the detection of attempts to gain illegal entry into the European Union but also extend to positive steps such as intercepting ships which are suspected of trying to gain entry to the Union without submitting to border checks. Article 12(4) of the SBC specifically mentions one of the purposes of surveillance as being to apprehend individuals. In order to assess whether ‘search and rescue’ falls within the concept of surveillance, it is important to take into consideration the factual circumstances in which attempted illegal entries arise. In many instances, the surveillance operation will prompt the search and rescue situation, and it is not possible to draw a sharp distinction between those operations. The issue of whether or not the guidelines are binding does not arise, given that the measures which they lay down fall within the concept of surveillance.

(ii) Modification of essential elements of the SBC

57. As regards the modification of the essential elements of the SBC, the Parliament contends, in particular, that the contested decision alters Article 13 of the Code. Since that article applies to any form of interception, persons who have entered illegally into the territorial waters and contiguous zones cannot be forced back or asked to leave without a decision pursuant to Article 13 of the SBC. However, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision confers on border guards the power to order the ship to modify its course outside of the territorial waters, without a decision within the meaning of Article 13 being taken or without the persons concerned having the possibility to challenge the refusal of entry.

58. In that connection, the Council and the Commission contend that Article 13 of the SBC does not apply to border surveillance activities so that the contested decision does not amend that article.

(iii) Amendment of the Frontex Regulation

59. As regards the amendment of the Frontex Regulation, the Parliament contends that Article 12(5) of the SBC does not grant the Commission the power to lay down rules which amend the powers and obligations set out by the Frontex Regulation for the operations co-ordinated by the Agency. The contested decision is not the appropriate legal instrument for creating obligations in relation to those operations or for modifying the provisions of the Frontex Regulation.

60. However, the contested decision is intended to apply only within the context of operations coordinated by the Agency and is obligatory not only for the Member States but also for the Agency, in light of the fact that its Annex forms part of the operational plan for each operation, whilst Article 8e of the Frontex Regulation determines the main elements of that plan. The mandatory inclusion in the operational plan of the rules and guidelines set out in the Annex of the contested decision significantly amends the list of necessary elements for the implementation of that plan, such as the roles of border guards, the participating units and the Rescue Coordination Centre, respectively.

61. In that connection, the Council contends that the contested decision does not amend the tasks of the Agency, even though the Annex of that decision forms part of the operational plan. [***]

62. According to the Commission, the contested decision does not affect the operation of the Frontex Regulation. The requirement in Article 1 of the contested decision that both Parts to the Annex are to be part of the operational plan imposes a requirement not upon the Agency, but rather the Member States as the persons to whom that decision is addressed and responsible for ensuring that the Annex forms part of that plan. In those circumstances, the contested decision does not amend the Frontex Regulation.

2. Findings of the Court

63.-68. [***]

69. As to whether the Council was empowered to adopt the contested decision as a measure implementing Article 12 of the SBC on border surveillance, on the basis of Article 12(5) of that code, it is first of all necessary to assess the meaning of that article.

70.-72.[***]

73. Although the SBC, which is the basic legislation in the matter, states in Article 12(4) thereof, that the aim of such [border] surveillance is to apprehend individuals crossing the border illegally, it does not contain any rules concerning the measures which border guards are authorised to apply against persons or ships when they are apprehended and subsequently – such as the application of enforcement measures, the use of force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location – or even measures against persons implicated in human trafficking.

74. That said, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision lays down the measures which border guards may take against ships detected and persons on board. In that connection, paragraph 2.4 (b), (d), (f) and (g) allows, inter alia, ships to be stopped, boarded, searched and seized, the persons on board to be searched and stopped, the ship or persons on board to be conducted to another Member State, and thus enforcement measures to be taken against persons and ships which could be subject to the sovereignty of the State whose flag they are flying.

75. In addition, paragraph 1.1 of Part II to the Annex of the contested decision lays down, inter alia, the obligation of the units participating in sea external border operations coordinated by the Agency to provide assistance to any vessel or person in distress at sea. Paragraph 2 of Part II lays down rules on the disembarkation of the persons intercepted or rescued, the second subparagraph of paragraph 2.1 stating that priority should be given to disembarkation in the third country from where the ship carrying the persons departed.

76. First, the adoption of rules on the conferral of enforcement powers on border guards, referred to in paragraphs 74 and 75 above, entails political choices falling within the responsibilities of the European Union legislature, in that it requires the conflicting interests at issue to be weighed up on the basis of a number of assessments. Depending on the political choices on the basis of which those rules are adopted, the powers of the border guards may vary significantly, and the exercise of those powers require authorisation, be an obligation or be prohibited, for example, in relation to applying enforcement measures, using force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location. In addition, where those powers concern the taking of measures against ships, their exercise is liable, depending on the scope of the powers, to interfere with the sovereign rights of third countries according to the flag flown by the ships concerned. Thus, the adoption of such rules constitutes a major development in the SBC system.

77. Second, it is important to point out that provisions on conferring powers of public authority on border guards – such as the powers conferred in the contested decision, which include stopping persons apprehended, seizing vessels and conducting persons apprehended to a specific location – mean that the fundamental rights of the persons concerned may be interfered with to such an extent that the involvement of the European Union legislature is required.

78. Thus, the adoption of provisions such as those laid down in paragraph 2.4 of Part I, and paragraphs 1.1 and 2.1 of Part II, of the Annex to the contested decision, requires political choices to be made as referred to in paragraphs 76 and 77 above. Accordingly, the adoption of such provisions goes beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC and, in the context of the European Union’s institutional system, is a matter for the legislature.

79. In those circumstances, it must be found that, as the Advocate General observed in points 61 and 66 of his Opinion, Parts I and II to the Annex of the contested decision contain essential elements of external maritime border surveillance.

80. The mere fact that the title of Part II to the Annex of the contested decision contains the word ‘guidelines’ and that the second sentence of Article 1 of that decision states that the rules and guidelines in Part II are ‘non-binding’ cannot affect their classification as essential rules.

81.-83. [***]

84. In those circumstances, the contested decision must be annulled in its entirety because it contains essential elements of the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States which go beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC, and only the European Union legislature was entitled to adopt such a decision.

85. Consequently, the Parliament’s arguments to the effect that the contested decision amends the essential elements of the SBC and also the Frontex Regulation do not require to be examined.

IV – The application for the effects of the contested decision to be maintained

86. The Parliament requests the Court, should it annul the contested decision, to maintain its effects, pursuant to the second paragraph of Article 264 TFEU, until that decision is replaced.

87. The Parliament submits that it is necessary to maintain the effects of the contested decision, in the light of the importance of the objectives of the proposed measures in the context of the European Union’s policy on border control operations.

88. [***]

89. The annulment of the contested decision without maintaining its effects on a provisional basis could compromise the smooth functioning of the current and future operations coordinated by the Agency and, consequently, the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States.

90. In those circumstances, there are important grounds of legal certainty which justify the Court exercising the power conferred on it by the second paragraph of Article 264 TFEU. In the present case, the effects of the contested decision must be maintained until the entry into force, within a reasonable time, of new rules intended to replace the contested decision annulled by the present judgment.

V – Costs

91. [***]

On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby:

1. Annuls Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union;

2. Maintains the effects of decision 2010/252 until the entry into force of new rules within a reasonable time;

3. Orders the Council of the European Union to pay the costs;

4. Orders the European Commission to bear its own costs.

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Judicial, News

EU Court of Justice Advocate General Recommends Annulment of Frontex Sea Borders Rule

ECJ Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi issued an Opinion on 17 April in which he recommended that the European Court of Justice annul Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by Frontex (Sea Borders Rule).  The Advocate General’s recommendation, issued in the case of the European Parliament v Council of the EU, Case C-355/10, will be considered by the ECJ in the coming weeks.  The case was filed by the European Parliament on 12 July 2010.  A hearing was conducted on 25 January 2012.

The Advocate General’s recommendation is based primarily on the conclusion that the Council adopted the Frontex Sea Borders Rule by invoking a procedure which may only be used to amend “non-essential elements” of the Schengen Borders Code.  The Advocate General concluded that rather than amending “non-essential elements” of the SBC, the Council Decision introduces “new essential elements” into the SBC and amends the Frontex Regulation.  The recommendation calls for the effects of the Sea Borders Rule to be maintained until a new act can be adopted in accordance with ordinary legislative procedures.

[UPDATE:]  Paragraph 64 of the Recommendation explains why the Commission likely sought to implement the Sea Borders Rule through the committee mechanism rather than by pursuing ordinary legislative procedures:

“64.      Firstly, some provisions of the contested decision concern problems that, as well as being sensitive, are also particularly controversial, such as, for example, the applicability of the principle of non-refoulement in international waters (51) or the determination of the place to which rescued persons are to be escorted under the arrangements introduced by the SAR Convention. (52) The Member States have different opinions on these problems, as is evident from the proposal for a decision submitted by the Commission. (Ftnt 53)

Ftnt 53 – Moreover, it would seem that it is precisely a difference of opinion and the impasse created by it which led to the Commission’s choosing to act through the committee mechanism under Article 12(5) of the SBC rather than the ordinary legislative procedure, as is clear also from the letter from Commissioner Malmström annexed to the reply. These differences persist. The provisions of the contested decision concerning search and rescue, for example, have not been applied in Frontex operations launched after the entry into force of the contested decision on account of opposition from Malta.”

While this case presents a procedural question and does not involve a review of any of the substantive provisions of the Sea Borders Rule, the Advocate General’s statement in Paragraph 64 that “the applicability of the principle of non-refoulement in international waters” is a “controversial” position is wrong.  Perhaps the position is still controversial in some circles, but legally, with the important exception expressed by the US Supreme Court, it is clear that non-refoulement obligations apply to actions taken in international waters.

Click here for Opinion of Advocate General Mengozzi, Case C-355/10, 17 April 2012.

Click here, here, and here for articles.

Click here for my last post on the case.

Extensive Excerpts from the Advocate General’s Recommendation:

“1.        In the present proceedings, the European Parliament requests the Court to annul Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code (2) as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (‘the contested decision’). (3) If the action should be upheld, Parliament requests that the effects of the contested decision be maintained until it shall have been replaced.

[***]

9.        The contested decision was adopted on the basis of Article 12(5) of the SBC, in accordance with the procedure provided for in Article 5a(4) of the comitology decision … [***]

10.      According to recitals (2) and (11) of the contested decision, its principal objective is the adoption of additional rules for the surveillance of the sea borders by border guards operating under the coordination of the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (‘the Agency’ or ‘Frontex’), established by Regulation 2007/2004 (‘the Frontex Regulation’). (9) It consists of two articles and an annex divided into two parts entitled ‘Rules for sea border operations coordinated by the Agency’ and ‘Guidelines for search and rescue situations and for disembarkation in the context of sea border operations coordinated by the Agency’. Under Article 1, ‘[t]he surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of the operational cooperation between Member States coordinated by the … Agency … shall be governed by the rules laid down in Part I to the Annex. Those rules and the non-binding guidelines laid down in Part II to the Annex shall form part of the operational plan drawn up for each operation coordinated by the Agency.’

11.      Point 1 of Part I to the Annex lays down certain general principles intended, inter alia, to guarantee that maritime surveillance operations are conducted in accordance with fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulement. Point 2 contains detailed provisions on interception and lists the measures that may be taken in the course of the surveillance operation ‘against ships or other sea craft with regard to which there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that they carry persons intending to circumvent the checks at border crossing points’ (point 2.4). The conditions for taking such measures vary depending on whether the interception takes place in the territorial waters and contiguous zone of a Member State (point 2.5.1) or on the high seas (point 2.5.2). Point 1 of Part II to the Annex lays down provisions on units participating in the surveillance operation in search and rescue situations, including with regard to communicating and forwarding information to the rescue coordination centre responsible for the area in question and the coordination centre of the operation, and defines certain conditions for the existence of an emergency (point 1.4). Point 2 lays down guidelines on the modalities for the disembarkation of the persons intercepted or rescued.

II –  Procedure before the Court and forms of order sought

12.      By act lodged at the Registry of the Court of Justice on 12 July 2010, the Parliament brought the action which forms the subject-matter of the present proceedings. The Commission intervened in support of the Council. At the hearing of 25 January 2012, the agents of the three institutions presented oral argument.

13.      The Parliament claims that the Court should annul the contested decision, rule that the effects thereof be maintained until it is replaced, and order the Council to pay the costs.

14.      The Council contends that the Court should dismiss the application as inadmissible or, in the alternative, as unfounded and order the Parliament to pay the costs.

15.      The Commission requests the Court to dismiss the application and order the Parliament to pay the costs.

III –  Application

A –    Admissibility

[***]

23.      For all the reasons set out above, the application must, in my view, be declared admissible.

B –    Substance

24.      The Parliament considers that the contested decision exceeds the implementing powers conferred by Article 12(5) of the SBC and therefore falls outside the ambit of its legal basis. In that context it raises three complaints. Firstly, the contested decision introduces new essential elements into the SBC. Secondly, it alters essential elements of the SBC. Thirdly, it interferes with the system created by the Frontex Regulation. These complaints are examined separately below.

[***]

3.      First complaint, alleging that the contested decision introduces new essential elements into the SBC

[***]

61.      Given both the sphere of which the legislation in question forms part and the objectives and general scheme of the SBC, in which surveillance is a fundamental component of border control policy, and notwithstanding the latitude left to the Commission by Article 12(5), I consider that strong measures such as those listed in point 2.4 of the annex to the contested decision, in particular those in subparagraphs (b), (d), (f) and g), and the provisions on disembarkation contained in Part II to that annex, govern essential elements of external maritime border surveillance. These measures entail options likely to affect individuals’ personal freedoms and fundamental rights (for example, searches, apprehension, seizure of the vessel, etc.), the opportunity those individuals have of relying on and obtaining in the Union the protection they may be entitled to enjoy under international law (this is true of the rules on disembarkation in the absence of precise indications on how the authorities are to take account of the individual situation of those on board the intercepted vessel), (47) and also the relations between the Union or the Member States participating in the surveillance operation and the third countries involved in that operation.

62.      In my view, a similar approach is necessary with regard to the provisions of the contested decision governing interception of vessels on the high seas. On the one hand, those provisions expressly authorise the adoption of the measures mentioned in the preceding paragraph in international waters, an option which, in the context described above, is essential in nature, irrespective of whether or not the Parliament’s argument is well founded, that the geographical scope of the SBC, with regard to maritime borders, is restricted to the external limit of the Member State’s territorial waters or the contiguous zone, and does not extend to the high seas. (48) On the other hand, those provisions, intended to ensure the uniform application of relevant international law in the context of maritime border surveillance operations, (49) even if they do not create obligations for the Member States participating in those operations or confer powers on them, other than those that may be deduced from that legislation, do bind them to a particular interpretation of those obligations and powers, thereby potentially bringing their international responsibility into play. (50)

63.      Two further observations militate in favour of the conclusions reached above.

64.      Firstly, some provisions of the contested decision concern problems that, as well as being sensitive, are also particularly controversial, such as, for example, the applicability of the principle of non-refoulement in international waters (51) or the determination of the place to which rescued persons are to be escorted under the arrangements introduced by the SAR Convention. (52) The Member States have different opinions on these problems, as is evident from the proposal for a decision submitted by the Commission. (53)

65.      Secondly, a comparison with the rules on border checks contained in the SBC shows that the definition of the practical arrangements for carrying out those checks, in so far as they concern aspects comparable, mutatis mutandis, to those governed by the contested decision, was reserved to the legislature, and this is so notwithstanding the fact that the Commission expressed a different opinion in the proposal for a regulation. (54)

66.      In the light of all the preceding provisions, I consider that the contested decision governs essential elements of the basic legislation within the meaning of the case-law set out in points 26 to 29 of this Opinion.

67.      Therefore, the Parliament’s first complaint must, in my opinion, be upheld.

4.      Second complaint, alleging that the contested decision alters essential elements of the SBC

68.      In its second complaint, the Parliament claims that, by providing that border guards may order the intercepted vessel to change its course towards a destination outside territorial waters and conduct it or the persons on board to a third country [point 2.4(e) and (f) of Part I to the annex], the contested decision alters an essential element of the SBC, that is to say, the principle set out in Article 13, under which ‘[e]ntry may only be refused by a substantiated decision stating the precise reasons for the refusal.’

69.      The Parliament’s argument is based on the premise that Article 13 is applicable to border surveillance too. This interpretation is opposed by both the Council and the Commission, which consider that the obligation to adopt a measure for which reasons are stated pursuant to that provision exists only when a person who has duly presented himself at a border crossing point and been subject to the checks provided for in the SBC has been refused entry into the territory of Union.

70.      The Parliament’s complaint must, in my view, be rejected, with no need to give a ruling, as to the substance, on the delicate question of the scope of Article 13 SBC on which the Court will, in all likelihood, be called to rule in the future.

[***]

5.      Third complaint, alleging that the contested decision amends the Frontex Regulation

[***]

82.      However, the fact remains that Article 1 of the contested decision substantially reduces the latitude of the requesting Member State and, consequently, that of the Agency, potentially interfering significantly with its functioning. An example of this is provided by the events connected with the Frontex intervention requested by Malta in March 2011 in the context of the Libyan crisis. The request by Malta, inter alia, not to integrate into the operational plan the guidelines contained in Part II to the annex to the contested decision met with opposition from various Member States and involved long negotiations between the Agency and the Maltese Government which prevented the operation from being launched. (62)

83.      In actual fact, the annex to the contested decision as a whole, including the non-binding guidelines – whose mandatory force, given the wording of Article 1, it is difficult to contest – (63) is perceived as forming part of the Community measures relating to management of external borders whose application the Agency is required to facilitate and render more effective under Article 1(2) of the Frontex Regulation. (64)

84.      Furthermore, the non-binding guidelines contained in Part II to the annex to the contested decision relating to search and rescue situations govern aspects of the operation that do not fall within Frontex’s duties. As the Commission itself points out in the proposal on the basis of which the contested decision was adopted, Frontex is not an SAR agency (65) and ‘the fact that most of the maritime operations coordinated by it turn into search and rescue operations removes them from the scope of Frontex’. (66) The same is true with regard to the rules on disembarkation. None the less, the contested decision provides for those guidelines to be incorporated into the operational plan.

85.      On the basis of the foregoing considerations, I consider that, by regulating aspects relating to operational cooperation between Member States in the field of management of the Union’s external borders that fall within the scope of the Frontex Regulation and, in any event, by laying down rules that interfere with the functioning of the Agency established by that regulation, the contested decision exceeds the implementing powers conferred by Article 12(5) of the SBC.

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C –    Conclusions reached on the application

89.      In the light of the foregoing, the action must, in my view, be allowed and the contested decision annulled.

IV –  Parliament’s request that the effects of the contested decision be maintained

90.      The Parliament requests the Court, should it order the annulment of the contested decision, to maintain the effects thereof until a new act be adopted, pursuant to the power conferred on it by the second paragraph of Article 264 TFEU. That provision, under which ‘the Court shall, if it considers this necessary, state which of the effects of the act which it has declared void shall be considered as definitive’ has also been used to maintain temporarily all the effects of such an act pending its replacement. (68)

91.      In the present case, annulment pure and simple of the contested decision would deprive the Union of an important legal instrument for coordinating joint action by the Member States in the field of managing surveillance of the Union’s maritime borders, and for making that surveillance more in keeping with human rights and the rules for the protection of refugees.

92.      For the reasons set out, I consider that the Parliament’s application should be granted and the effects of the contested decision maintained until an act adopted in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure shall have been adopted.

[***]”

Click here for Opinion of Advocate General Mengozzi, Case C-355/10, 17 April 2012.

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Click here for previous post on topic.

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Head of Armed Forces of Malta Describes Malta’s Interpretation of Its SAR Responsibilities

Brigadier Martin Xuereb, the head of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), spoke at a recent seminar sponsored by the European Parliament, “Europe’s new Mediterranean reality: Migration and asylum in Malta, Greece and Cyprus,” and summarised Malta’s interpretation of its search and rescue obligations.  Xuereb said that Malta is obligated to coordinate search and rescue operations within its SAR zone, but is not required to perform all rescue operations.

Xuereb said Malta believes rescued persons should be disembarked at the nearest place of safety which, given the size and location of the Maltese SAR, will sometimes mean that Italian territory, particularly Lampedusa, is closer.  Xuereb acknowledged that this interpretation is not shared by others.  Xuereb “said that Malta had consistently insisted that the arrangement that best represented the interests of rescued persons was one that saw them disembarked in the nearest place of safety.”  He said the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) has coordinated or assisted with 54 SAR cases so far this year.

Xuereb also confirmed that Malta would continue its refusal to host Frontex joint operations because of its objections to Frontex guidelines which are based “on a number of grounds, including the fact that [the guidelines] addressed matters deemed to be outside community competence and attempted to erode the rights that Malta enjoyed under the international legal framework. … In light of these guidelines, Malta considered the hosting of [Frontex] joint operations to be detrimental to its national interest.”  Malta objects to the guidelines because it believes they would require rescued migrants to be disembarked in the country hosting the joint operation.

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Moreno-Lax, Int J Refugee Law, “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea”

The latest edition of the International Journal of Refugee Law, contains an article by Violeta Moreno-Lax (PhD Candidate at Université catholique de Louvain; Visiting Fellow 2010-11 at Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford) entitled “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea.”

Abstract: “Although both international and EU law impose a number of obligations on the EU Member States with regard to persons in distress at sea, their effective implementation is limited by the manner in which they are being interpreted. The fact that the persons concerned are migrants, who may seek asylum upon rescue, has given rise to frequent disputes and to episodes of non-compliance. Frontex missions and the Italian 2009 push-back campaign illustrate the issue. With the objective of clarifying the scope of common obligations and to establish minimum operational arrangements for joint maritime operations, the EU has adopted a set of common guidelines for the surveillance of the external maritime borders. On the basis of the principle of systemic interpretation, this article intends to contribute to the clarification of the main obligations in international and European law binding upon the EU Member States when they operate at sea.”

This is a revised and updated version of the paper presented at the 12th IASFM Conference held in Nicosia, 28 June-2 July 2009.  [The article was written and sent for typesetting before the various uprisings in North Africa – IJRL Editor, 4 March 2011]

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Malta Confirms that it Will Not Host Frontex Mission

The Sunday Times of Malta reports that Malta has again declined to host a Frontex mission because Malta objects to the rules of engagement for such missions which require under certain circumstances that intercepted migrants be brought to the territory of the Member State hosting the mission.  “‘If Frontex changes its mind and manages to convince the other member states about the rules of engagement for the mission it wants to hold in Malta, we will reconsider our position. However, at this stage, we have ruled out the possibility of hosting a Frontex mission’ said [Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici.]”  “Frontex sources said other member states had been sounded out on Malta’s demand to have different rules for its mission based on the ‘closest safe port’ concept. However, the Warsaw-based agency failed to convince them.”

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Click here, here, and here for previous posts on the Malta–Frontex negotiations.

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Maltese Conditions for Hosting Frontex Mission Not Accepted by Frontex

The Times of Malta has posted copies of an exchange of correspondence between Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and Frontex Director Ilkka Laitinen.   The Times of Malta article does not identify the source of the correspondence.  It appears likely that the posted correspondence does not include all of the recent communications between Malta and Frontex.  However, that which has been made available by the Times of Malta provides additional background information regarding Malta’s refusal to host a Frontex mission.

According to the posted correspondence, on 10 March, Mifsud Bonnici made an urgent request to Frontex for a new Joint Operation and deployment of a Rapid Border Intervention Team.  Malta’s request however was conditioned upon Frontex agreeing to the establishment of a joint processing centre outside of Malta and an agreement not to follow the non-binding Guidelines pertaining to the surveillance of the sea external borders contained in Part II of the Annex to Council Decision 2010/252/EU.

On 29 March, Director Laitinen responded.  Laitinen said that on 22 March he took the decision to deploy a RABIT team to Malta and that a fact-finding visit to Malta took place 24-25 March, but that during the visit, the Frontex delegation was informed that Malta would agree to accept a RABIT deployment only if Malta’s requests for the creation of the joint external processing centre and the Joint Operation were organised simultaneously with the RABIT deployment.  Laitinen said that as of 28 March Frontex had received 10 official answers from Member States responding to Malta’s request for contribution to a possible Joint Operation and creation of the external processing centre; 9 of the answers were negative or questioned the concept of joint operation:  “According to the replies – and also indicted by the number of missing replies – it is obvious that the MS consider the establishment of a joint processing centre as an issue that needs discussion and agreement on political level.  It remains doubtful from legal point of view that a joint operation not applying the non-binding part of the Maritime guidelines – Council decision No 2010/252/EU – could be developed and implemented under Frontex coordination.”

Mifsud Bonnici’s initial letter was written before the first migrant boat from Libya arrived  in Malta on 28 March.  Presumably discussions between Malta, Frontex, and the Commission are ongoing.

Click here or on this link (Mifsud Bonnici Ltr – 10 March 2011 ) for the letter from Mifsud Bonnici to Laitinen.

Click here or on this link (Laitinen Ltr – 29 March 2011 ) for the letter from Laitinen to Mifsud Bonnici.

Click here for Times of Malta article.

A third letter from Commissioner Malmström was also posted by the Times of Malta.  It makes reference to the exchange discussed above.  More on this and on Malta’s call for triggering the Temporary Protection Instrument later.

Click here or on this link ( Malmström Ltr – 1 April 2011 ) for the letter from Malmström to Mifsud Bonnici.

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Laitinen in Malta Visit; Malta Still Not Willing to Host New Frontex Mission; Frontex Preparing Multiple Contingency Plans

Malta’s Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici met with Frontex Executive Director Ilkka Laitinen.  Mifsud Bonnici said Malta is unwilling to host a new Frontex mission due to its fear that intercepted or rescued migrants would be taken to Malta.  During a press conference (click here for article and short video), Laitinen said that Frontex was not willing to give estimates of the numbers of migrants it believes may seek to leave Libya, but said it was preparing plans for seven different scenarios.  The plans “could include strengthening air and maritime surveillance, increased capacity to deal with those seeking protection at ports and airports and an improved repatriation mechanism for those who did not meet the criteria for humanitarian protection.”  Laitinen reiterated that “push backs and diversions are not an option for people seeking protection.”  Laitinen did not address the burden sharing question other than to say that it was a political question that did not involve Frontex.

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Laitinen to Visit Malta to Discuss New Frontex Mission

The Malta Independent reported yesterday that Frontex Director Ilkka Laitinen will visit Malta shortly “with a view to organising a Frontex mission that would be hosted by Malta but, [Justice and Home Affairs Minister] Dr Mifsud Bonnici stresses, not under the infamous guidelines that are being disputed [before the European Court of Justice] by Malta, Italy and the European Parliament.”  Dr Mifsud Bonnici said “I have also made it a precondition that if we are to host this Frontex mission, it would not be under those guidelines and there is an agreement on that.”

Malta’s primary objection to the Frontex Sea Border Rule is likely due to provisions which require that intercepted migrants be taken to the country hosting the Frontex mission under certain circumstances.  The relevant provision provides:

“2. Disembarkation- 2.1. The operational plan should spell out the modalities for the disembarkation of the persons intercepted or rescued, in accordance with international law and any applicable bilateral agreements. The operational plan shall not have the effect of imposing obligations on Member States not participating in the operation.  Without prejudice to the responsibility of the Rescue Coordination Centre, and unless otherwise specified in the operational plan, priority should be given to disembarkation in the third country from where the ship carrying the persons departed or through the territorial waters or search and rescue region of which that ship transited and if this is not possible, priority should be given to disembarkation in the host Member State unless it is necessary to act otherwise to ensure the safety of these persons.”

Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has previously said that the Sea Border Rule guidelines can be negotiated by member states on a mission by mission basis and that before a mission starts participating member states can agree on different rules of engagement, which might include the sharing of responsibility where not all intercepted migrants would be brought to country hosting the mission.

Click here for Malta Independent article.

Click here for previous post regarding Malmström’s comments.

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Frontex Begins Consultations for Emergency Joint Operation –2010 Frontex Sea Border Rule Should Govern Joint Operation

The European Voice reports that Frontex began consultations yesterday with member states to identify what equipment and personnel they will commit to a planned joint operation with Italy to deter migrants seeking to leave North Africa. “Naval vessels, surveillance aircraft and enhanced radar tracking are likely to be deployed….”

Assuming an emergency joint operation is deployed in the coming days, it may to some extent simply be a revival of Frontex’s Joint Operation Nautilus (slated to be renamed Operation Chronos).  Less than two weeks ago, on 4 February Malta for the second year running announced that it would not host or participate in Operation Nautilus this year due to the success of Italy’s push-back agreement with Libya which eliminated the movement of migrants in the Central Mediterranean.

Malta, however, also likely refused to host the Frontex mission due to the 2010 guidelines governing Frontex enforcement operations at sea which require that intercepted migrants be taken to the country hosting the Frontex mission under certain circumstances.  The validity of the Frontex sea border rule is currently under review by the European Court of Justice.  The legal challenge to the rule was brought by the European Parliament.  Maltese MEP Simon Busuttil initiated the challenge within the LIBE Committee.  It will be interesting to see what role Malta will be willing to play in any new emergency joint operation.  Even though the Frontex sea border rule is under review by the ECJ, the referral clearly requested the ECJ “to preserve the effects of the measure until a new legislative act has been adopted.”  The rule therefore remains in effect.

Click here for EV article.

Click here for the Council decision on the surveillance of  sea external borders (the Sea Border Rule).

Click here, here, here, here, and here for previous posts on the sea border rule and the ECJ challenge.

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EU Official Journal Notice re ECJ Challenge to Frontex Sea Border Rule

The European Court of Justice published a routine notice and summary in the Official Journal regarding the EP’s pending challenge to the validity of the Frontex rule regarding the surveillance of the sea external borders (Council Decision 2010/252/EU (“Frontex / Sea borders”)).

I reproduce the Notice here in full:

Action brought on 14 July 2010 — European Parliament v Council of the European Union

(Case C-355/10) (2010/C 246/58)

Language of the case: English

Parties

Applicant: European Parliament (represented by: M. Dean, A. Auersperger Matić, Agents)

Defendant: Council of the European Union

The applicant claims that the Court should:

— Annul Council Decision 2010/252/EU ( 1 ) of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union;

— Order that the effects of the Council Decision be maintained until it is replaced;

— order Council of the European Union to pay the costs.

Pleas in law and main arguments

Parliament seeks the annulment of the contested Decision on the grounds that it exceeds the scope of the implementing power in Article 12(5) of the Schengen Borders Code ( 2 ) in that it introduces rules on ‘interception’, ‘search and rescue’ and ‘disembarkation’ which cannot be considered to be within the scope of ‘surveillance’ as defined by Article 12 of the Schengen Borders Code and which cannot be considered to be non-essential elements, and modifies the essential elements of the Schengen Borders Code which are reserved to the legislator. Moreover, the contested Decision modifies the obligations of the EU Member States relating to Frontex operations, which are laid down in the Frontex Regulation ( 3 ).  Should the Court annul the contested Decision, Parliament nonetheless considers it would be desirable that the Court exercise its discretion to maintain the effects of the contested Decision, in accordance with Article 264 (2) TFEU, until such time as it is replaced.

( 1 ) Council Decision of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union OJ L 111, p. 20

( 2 ) Regulation (EC) No 562/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 establishing a Community Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code) OJ L 105, p. 1

( 3 ) Council Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004 of 26 October 2004 establishing a European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union OJ L 349, p. 1

Click here for link to EU OJ.

Click here and here for earlier posts on the case.

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