Enhancing cooperation among the Prague Process states

On 23-24 October 2019, ICMPD organised the second International Conference on Comprehensive Border Governance in Yerevan. Following the success of its first edition held in Lebanon in 2018, this year the invitation was extended to all Prague Process states. The event thus gathered 80 state representatives and experts, including policy-makers, academic experts, various public institutions and agencies, as well as private sector representatives working in the border governance sphere.

The main aim of the event was to explore how a step-change from border management to its comprehensive governance may provide the tools needed to support the work of border management agencies. The evolving challenges at national, regional and global level require the introduction of this new concept in order to acknowledge the wide variety of tasks and actors present at the borders, as well as the far-reaching responsibilities that border professionals assume over the development, security and stability of their countries. The concept of ‘Comprehensive Border Governance’ therefore encompasses all present and future cross-border tasks and responsibilities. Based on strong strategic planning and cooperation, it positions the key stakeholders and practitioners as the main owners and leaders of the process.

In his keynote speech, Mr. Martijn Pluim, ICMPD Director of Migration Dialogues and Cooperation, described the future way forward: "Solutions should strive to bring relevant stakeholders together and should connect relevant actors and proactively contribute to the overall human progress. A concept of comprehensive border governance needs to be embraced by national and international partners, as it will serve the interests of governments, citizens, migrants, travellers and businesses alike." Well-functioning and efficient borders are the foundation for regional mobility and development. Whether we consider the transit of cargo trains or containers full of goods, business people flying to meet their associates, people fleeing persecution, tourism or farming communities that cross national borders as part of their daily or seasonal work patterns, the success or failure of these activities is dependent on well-governed borders.

The first panel looked into the future of border management and its potential impacts on mobility. The incapacity of the EU Member States to react adequately to the sudden mass inflow of migrants and asylum seekers in 2015-2016 led to fierce public debates on migration, demography and the feared transformation of Europe as a whole. In this context, policymakers needed to react to wide-reaching anxieties among the population. The issue of border management thus moved to the top of the political agenda and public interest. At the same time, policy-makers need to be aware of the strong effects of migration policies on the labour market, fiscal state and welfare state. While often perceived as a threat, migrant workers tend to fill existing labour market gaps, thereby allowing natives to move up professionally. Border regions, however, are usually economically weaker and only transited by migrants. A whole-of-government approach to migration should also include local governments.

The competent authorities need to identify bottlenecks and determine the divergences between the headquarters’ perception of border procedures and the actual practice at BCPs. To enable proper follow-up, the necessary measures need to be clearly defined and assigned to a responsible individual with a clear deadline. In fact, the processes introduced by policymakers are more important than the technologies used, since technologies tend to cement the process – no matter whether it is good or bad.

Over the past decade, the trends and challenges in border management in Europe mainly originated from the increasing numbers of passengers and goods crossing borders as well as the severe security issues confronted. The large-scale collection of information and increased use of new technologies represent key innovations. New border management information systems such as the EU interoperability package, European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), Entry-Exit System (EES) may contribute to solving many modern challenges. Their ability to collect new data and interlink existing data should contribute to improved security, the enhanced processing of legitimate travellers and better identification of potential threats.

The conference also served the introduction of new products and technologies, such as mobile device readers, which can identify the journey, activities and contacts of suspicious travellers while properly safeguarding personal data. Further elements introduced featured biometrics, intelligence and profiling, e-gate systems, mobile surveillance systems, drones or even artificial intelligence, which can provide for faster identification, better planning and coverage of larger areas in a cost-effective manner. The future of border surveillance may consist of fully automated systems operated by humans. At the same time, the threat of cyberattacks plays an ever-growing role.

Effective border governance is key to preventing the smuggling of counterfeit and prohibited goods, combat organised crime and corruption, and guarantee the safety of travellers, migrants and refugees. It is necessary to safeguard the rule of law and to ensure a level playing field in the domestic market as well as effective tax collection. The promotion of trade, mobility and stability are best achieved through a comprehensive governance framework. Only an approach that was developed jointly can ensure that all relevant institutions are working towards a common set of objectives and results.

Border management is undergoing a phase of technical modernisation and digitalisation, making all relevant processes quicker, safer and more transparent. Seamless and automatic border controls are already a reality at a number of border crossing points, be it at land, air or sea. These innovations have a tremendous impact on how border controls, including trade facilitation, are performed and on the methodology used at present and in the years to come. Progress in making border control more effective and efficient is exceeding forecasts, thereby turning it into one of the fastest developing policy areas. This growth is matched by the constant and rapid increase in worldwide travellers and globalised trade.

ICMPD’s interventions in the area of border management focus on policy and planning, training, international cooperation and infrastructure. Effective training should be innovative, using both conventional and non-conventional tools. The goal is to empower and complement human actors in border agencies. Regardless of how advanced border control and surveillance technology may become, the focus shall always be on the people involved.

Overall, the event provided a platform for discussing the challenges ahead, lessons learned from the past and some practical solutions for the future, facilitated by technological progress. Participants presented their daily practices and key achievements and reflected upon workable solutions to facilitate the cooperation and coordination between the border and migration agencies. Whenever possible, coordination efforts should extend to the relevant stakeholders at the regional and global level. The Prague Process will continue to enhance such cross-border cooperation among its 50 participating states in the years to come.