Frontex chief says EU border agency would be ‘honoured’ to play role in Rock’s post-Brexit future

The executive director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, has said the European Union’s borders and coastguard agency would be “honoured” to handle frontier controls at Gibraltar’s port and airport as part of an agreement for the Rock’s post-Brexit relations with the bloc.

In an interview with Spain’s Europa Press news agency published on Sunday, Mr Leggeri said work continued to find a “legal framework” to make such arrangements possible and, in effect, enable Gibraltar to form part of the Schengen area despite having left the EU alongside the UK.

“It would be an honour if Spain, the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and the European Commission asked Frontex to take on that role or to support that type of role,” he told Europa Press.

“It would be an honour for Frontex.”

“We know that Spain and the United Kingdom have expressed a desire for Frontex to assist in the entry points of Gibraltar’s external frontiers and this means controlling arrivals and exits at the port and the airport.”

Mr Leggeri was speaking after the publication late July of the European Commission’s draft negotiating mandate for talks on a treaty for Gibraltar’s future relations with the bloc, as envisaged in the framework agreement announced by the UK, Spain and Gibraltar on New Year’s Eve.

The 26-page mandate set out the Commission’s proposal for the EU’s negotiating guidelines and must be adopted by the European Council before negotiations for a treaty can commence.

But the draft guidelines drew a cold response from the UK and Gibraltar, which said they strayed significantly over longstanding red lines that the framework agreement had been careful not to cross, including on the presence of Spanish officers on the ground in Gibraltar.

The Commission’s proposed negotiating position put forward solutions to remove physical checks and controls on persons and goods at the land border between Spain and Gibraltar, while ensuring the integrity of the Schengen area and the Single Market.

The proposals included rules establishing responsibility for asylum, returns, visas, residence permits, and operational police cooperation and information exchange.

But the mandate contained Commission goals that are unacceptable to Gibraltar and the UK and will make any talks fraught with complexity.

The text, for example, recommended that border controls in full compliance with the Schengen acquis be carried out by Spain, including checks on entry and exit at newly established Border Crossing Points at the airport and port of Gibraltar “and the performance of border surveillance in the adjacent waters”.

There was no mention in the mandate of Frontex officers carrying out those checks, as envisaged in the framework agreement, although an accompanying statement issued by the Commission at the time acknowledged that “Spain has already expressed its full intention to ask Frontex for assistance” in meeting its obligations.

Two days after publication of the draft mandate, Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Albares, told his UK counterpart Dominic Raab that Spain remained committed to the framework agreement as the key to negotiating a treaty acceptable to all sides.

“We are going to comply with everything agreed on the 31st of December and that is what I have told [Mr Raab] and we are going to request the assistance of Frontex,” Mr Albares told at the time, adding: “We have to create a climate of trust.”

Since its publication, the Commission has been involved in technical talks with representatives of EU member states to set out its position on Gibraltar, the first in a three-step process culminating in ministerial approval.

An EU official in Brussels told the Chronicle in July that the Commission had several sessions planned through to September in the Council Working Group – which brings together Commission officials and representatives of member states - to explain and discuss its proposed negotiating guidelines in detail.

After these technical talks the mandate will be discussed by EU ambassadors before adoption by the European Council at ministerial level.

The official could not confirm a timetable for the process but the final mandate is unlikely to be approved before mid-September at the earliest, after which the Council would ask the Commission to nominate the EU’s chief negotiator for the talks.

In theory at least, the Commission’s mandate could change through that process of discussion with EU member states, not least because the UK and Gibraltar have made clear that in their current form, the guidelines cannot form the basis for treaty talks.

And while there is no public indication of any shift in the Commission’s position, Mr Leggeri’s comments on Sunday will be welcomed by the Gibraltar Government because they acknowledge that Gibraltar has a crucial say in any decision on the role of Frontex officers on the Rock.

The New Year’s Eve agreement envisaged that Spain would take responsibility on behalf of EU member states for the integrity of Schengen borders if these were extended to include Gibraltar.

But in order to avoid the contentious issue of ‘Spanish boots on the ground’, the UK, Spain and Gibraltar agreed that responsibility would be delegated to Frontex officers.

At the time, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said this could only happen if the UK and Gibraltar, which has constitutional responsibility for immigration matters, agreed.

He spoke of a “double filter” for people arriving through the airport and the port, first through Gibraltar’s immigration controls, subsequently through Frontex-manned Schengen controls.

Mr Picardo said too that if a treaty was finally agreed, it would be Gibraltar’s Parliament that would have to enact legislation in order to bring its contents into practical effect.

“It is a recognition that in the territorial extent of what we call Gibraltar, any actions to be carried out by Frontex, any mechanisms through which a person will be required to pass, can only be compelled by an Act of the Parliament which governs our nation,” he said.

“It is that essential. And in that respect, what we have is an assertion of our sovereignty, our jurisdiction and our control in the most direct, most obvious and most undeniable manner.”

The issue of Frontex, however, is just one of many concerns arising from the Commission’s proposed negotiating mandate for the treaty talks.

The UK and Gibraltar governments agreed that the guidelines were “unacceptable” in a number of other areas ranging from asylum and residence to commercial arrangements, analysis shared by the Opposition too.

“There are too many problematic parts of the mandate for it to form the basis for the successful negotiation of a treaty,” Mr Picardo said at the time of the mandate’s publication.

“We have a lot of work to do in order to be able to bring to fruition in a UK/EU treaty the enthusiasm and optimism that welcomed the New Year’s Eve Agreement in Gibraltar and the region around us.”

“I will not give up, but the EU needs to become a partner in the process and not continue to be a hindrance to it.”

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The announcement that Frontex would be “honoured” to undertake frontier controls at our port and airport is not real news. The news remains that the mandate prepared by the EU Commission includes requirements that are not acceptable to the UK or Gibraltar, with both saying as much.

But a collapse, before any negotiations toward a treaty start, does not interest any of the primary parties involved, Gibraltar, the UK, or Spain, despite that today, it is the most likely outcome.


Where we stand currently is that the UK and Gibraltar do not think that EU mandate is a platform from which an intended treaty can be negotiated.

The UK/Gibraltar argument, in a nutshell, is that the mandate does not conform with the matters agreed to in the framework agreement of the 31st December 2020. That is said to be so, despite that the skeleton contained in it does not cover all points or determine all relevant matters, which the EU mandate does expand on.

The position of non-conformity with the framework agreement is accompanied by statements from Spain, which remains committed to that agreement, as being the cornerstone to reach a negotiated position with the EU.


For once, seemingly, the UK, Gibraltar and Spain are on the same side, facing the EU.

But the fundamental question is whether that reflects reality, or whether reality is that Spain is playing ‘good cop’ and the EU ‘bad cop’? It will become clear only over the next couple of months.


Continued at link.

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