The EU’s border agency Frontex is pressing to have its guards armed by the summer.
The weapon-carrying border guards would be among the first deployment of armed EU officials to other member states.
The Warsaw-based agency, which also bills itself as a law-enforcement force, has been at pains of getting the legal basis sorted for its new recruits to carry guns.
It managed to reach an agreement with Poland to carry weapons on site – but has been at loggerheads to do the same elsewhere.
But Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri on Tuesday (16 March) told MEPs that it had since reached a “bridging agreement” with Athens so that its guards can also carry guns on missions in Greece.
“We are a fully-fledged EU agency, no doubt about that, but we are also more a fully-fledged European law enforcement force,” he added.
Leggeri said background checks for criminal records of the future armed guards are currently being carried out.
The recruits belong to a so-called ‘category one’ staffing of EU officials, which are part of a future 10,000 standing corps under Frontex control.
“We are in the process of vetting the category one staff so that we can deploy them with use of force,” he said.
Leggeri said the plan is to get similar “bridging agreements” by the summer in place with other member states which currently host its missions.
Aside from Greece, Frontex has operations in the Canary Islands, Cyprus, Italy and Spain. They also operate on the land border in Bulgaria, as well as in Albania and Montenegro.
Frontex currently has some 500 mostly-trained category one staff. Others are currently in training in Italy and Spain.
The agency is seeking to have at least 700 category one staff by the end of the year. Some 200 will be picked this month from a reserve list created at the end of 2019.
Its biggest operation remains in Greece, where up to 800 Frontex officers are deployed at any one time.
The move comes amid border tensions between Greece and Turkey.
Earlier this month, reports emerged of Turkish soldiers firing shots into the air at the Greek land border at the Evros river.
Ana Cristina Jorge, who heads Frontex’s operational response division, said one of its patrols had witnessed the shootings.
“When it comes to the aggression of Frontex by Turkey, we have had them for a long time,” she said earlier this week.
The issue of weapons was also the source of another spat between the European Commission and the agency. The two sides are indirectly blaming one another for the delays on clarifying the legal basis of arming the guards.
Meanwhile, the agency remains under scrutiny from MEPs looking into its alleged role of violating the fundamental rights of would-be asylum seekers.
Frontex was supposed to have hired some 40 fundamental right monitors four months ago. Currently it has none. But Leggeri said at least 15 should be hired by the end of the month or at the start of April.
The commission has faulted Leggeri for the delays, also noting that the agency still needs to hire three deputy executive directors and a permanent fundamental rights officer.
“It would have been better if all senior management staff that should have been in place would have been in place,” said EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson.