STRASBOURG, July 6 (Xinhua) -- Plans for a more robust European Union (EU) border control system were endorsed by members of the European Parliament (MEPs) here on Wednesday.
The European Parliament (EP) voted by large majority to support moves to bring together the EU's Frontex border agency and national border management authorities.
Under the plans, national authorities would still manage their borders on a day-to-day basis, but, if their EU external borders were under pressure, they would be able to seek help from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG) to rapidly deploy pooled border guard teams.
"The European Border and Coast Guard Regulation will ensure that the EU external borders are safer and better managed," said rapporteur Lithuanian MEP Artis Pabriks.
"This is not a silver bullet that can solve the migration crisis facing the EU today or fully restore trust in the Schengen area, but it is a very much needed first step," he added.
At a press conference, Pabriks welcomed the "extremely important vote" on the text of the plans which came about in a "very short period" of five months.
"This shows us that we in the EU can cooperate effectively. For the first time in the history of the Union, a body of 1,500 coastguards will be created," he added.
With the arrival in Europe during 2015 of close to one million refugees fleeing war and poverty the question of managing the EU's external borders has become a hot topic in member states. Greece and Italy have found themselves on the front line as gateways to the EU for refugees and asylum seekers, and have at times been overwhelmed.
The EBCG is seen as a response to such emergencies. "This new agency will be able to rapidly deploy reserve teams to the relevant borders," said Pabriks, emphasising that "this does not affect national sovereignty" - a divisive issue in an EU seen as more and more sceptical about the Union.
Following a request by a member state facing, for example, severe migration pressures, an operational plan would be agreed with the EBCG, which would send, within five working days, the necessary staff and provide technical equipment.
In cases where a member state does not take up the measures proposed by the EBCG or migratory pressure jeopardizes the functioning of the Schengen area, the EU Commission can present a proposal to act to the European Council - which groups the member state governments. The Council would then decide on the need to send border intervention teams.
"The operational plan has to be agreed by the member state concerned and the EBCG before deployment can take place," Pabriks added.
However, the text also provides for other EU states to temporarily reintroduce internal border checks if a member state opposes a Council decision to provide assistance.
The EBCG will not have its own border guards but will be able to call on a rapid reaction pool of 1,500 border guards to be nominated by member states. It will be accountable to the EP and Council.
More contentiously, the EBCG will play a greater role than today's Frontex in returning migrants to their country of origin, "but only when executing decisions that have already been taken by national authorities" and where "return provisions have been further strengthened by additional fundamental rights safeguards".
That could anger NGOs dealing with refugees. One such, Cimade, an ecumenical support group for migrants, has denounced what it sees as "an enhanced version of Frontex, with more power, but still no independent control of its actions or human rights violations during operations."
The text should come into effect this fall.