This week, European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex launched its first full operation outside the EU, in Albania. Albania is the first country to have passed a law granting Frontex officers complete immunity for any crime they may commit on Albanian territory.
EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos gave a press conference the Palace of Congresses in Tirana, stating:
Tomorrow, the first European Border and Coast Guard teams will be deployed in Albania. They will support Albanian border guards with equipment and staff at crucial sections of the border with Greece.
This is a historical step: it will be the first time that European Border and Coast Guard Teams are deployed in a non-EU country and can assist a partner country directly on the ground.
What this means in practice is that Albania has given up a considerable amount of sovereignty, by allowing foreign border guards to patrol its borders, interrogate its citizens, and check their papers and vehicles. According to the Status Agreement between the EU and Albania, Frontex border guards will have “executive powers required for border control and return operations.”
These border guards will be allowed to use weapons, on Albanian soil, against Albanian citizens:
While performing their tasks and exercising their powers, members of the team shall be authorised to use force, including service weapons, ammunition and equipment, with the consent of the home Member State and the Republic of Albania, in the presence of border guards or other relevant staff of the Republic of Albania and in accordance with the national law of the Republic of Albania.
However, different from Albanian police officers and border guards, Frontex border guards will have full immunity from the Albanian law, practically operating with impunity:
Members of the team shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the Republic of Albania in respect of the acts performed in the exercise of their official functions in the course of the actions carried out in accordance with the operational plan.
Furthermore, Frontex border guards “shall not be obliged to give evidence as witnesses,” while the Albanian government is “liable for any damage […] caused by a member of the team in the exercise of official functions.”
All of this of course provides the reason why no other country, not in Europe, not in the Middle East, and not in Africa, has allowed Frontex to operate within its borders. It is literally an armed foreign police force.
So even before Albania is entering into negotiations with the EU about membership, it has already ceded what many countries prize as their most valued asset: control over their own borders and upholding their own law as the highest law of their country.
Frontex is not a benign agency, and has been (co)responsible, for example, for the inhuman and degrading treatment of asylum seekers in Greece, and the many deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean. Part of Frontex’s role will indeed precisely to act against “illegal immigration,” in other words, to keep the Albanians who desperately want to leave Albania, legally or illegally, inside the country.
Of course, we all hope that the Frontex agents will behave properly in the country that has so generously opened their doors to them, but Albania has very little leverage in this entire agreement. And should it, at some point, want to withdraw, this will certainly shut the door for further negotiations with the EU. In other words, the Rama government has given in too much, too soon, as has nothing to show for it.