Frontex Mission In The Balance

Frontex mission in the balance

Ivan Camilleri in Brussels
The Times of Malta
June 14, 2007

The EU border control agency Frontex is having great difficulty putting together the vessels and aircraft needed to operate its planned anti- immigration patrols in the Mediterranean, scheduled to start soon.

Sources close to the agency said this might put the mission, dubbed Nautilus II, “in danger”.

The sources said that despite various appeals launched by the European Commission and Frontex, Nautilus II has so far had a very scarce response by member states.

Apart from Malta and Spain, which are offering one patrol boat each, Frontex's call was only concretely received by France and Germany that have agreed to provide limited air cover.

The participation of Greece and Italy is still uncertain despite recent declarations to the contrary, the sources said.

European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini last week admitted that Italy was not really keen on taking part in the mission so long as Libya was not on board. However, he said he had managed to convince Italian Home Affairs Minister Giuliano Amato to support Nautilus II.

Frontex sources yesterday confirmed that Italy's participation would in any case be “symbolic” – an aircraft to locate migrants. It will not be deploying any of its naval vessels to conduct the much needed maritime patrols in the strait between Sicily, Malta and Libya.

Compounding matters, the Greek navy is said to be finding it difficult to allocate the necessary technical resources to the mission.

The sources conceded that the scarce resources being offered by member states might put the whole operation in jeopardy.

“It is not worth having a patrol mission that is not capable of doing its work as it should. Technical resources, especially in the form of patrol boats and vessels, need to be beefed up if Nautilus II is to have the desired effect of deterring human traffickers from organising illegal trips from Libya to Malta and Sicily. If these requirements are not met in the coming days it is difficult to imagine a successful mission,” the sources noted.

A spokesman for the Maltese government declined to comment on grounds that the issue is under discussion.

Mr Frattini said last week that Frontex had decided to prolong Nautilus II until the end of October in view of more funds being voted to the mission. Originally, the mission was planned to take up to five weeks.