Enhancing cooperation among the Prague Process states

The third International Border Management Conference took place remotely on 23-24 November 2020. It focused on the key challenges for border management expected in the future while also addressing the particular challenges related to morphing and biometric technologies. Apart from border guards, police and customs agencies, the third edition of this ICMPD flagship event also brought together a wide range of other actors from the public and private sectors. During the two thematic roundtables, invited speakers presented their daily practices and achievements, exchanged views and discussed potential developments in border governance as a way to address global risks.

Intimately connected to human activity and mobility, the border management (BM) sector is constantly facing challenges, which are not necessarily linked to the frontier domain, but still require swift and efficient adaption and responses. This was the case in 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people fled Syria, and just recently in 2020 during the outbreak of COVID-19 that led to border closures and various travel restrictions. Following the shock of the first wave of COVID-19 and in anticipation of the second wave, the countries that best managed their borders in terms of a harmonised closure and reopening recovered fastest. The ability to adapt to such circumstances is key, but it greatly varies depending on the geopolitical context, on the human, financial and technical resources available.

Overall, BM keeps its focus on ensuring border security, trade facilitation and the protection of public health. Nevertheless, technological, procedural and human innovation is inevitable in the context of new specific circumstances. Seamless (and soon likely “touchless”) and automatic border controls are already a reality at a number of land, air and sea border crossing points worldwide. Meanwhile, biometrics-based screening tools at borders play a crucial role in the prevention of terrorism, especially concerning foreign terrorist fighters and returnees. These innovations have a tremendous impact on how the responsible agencies perform border controls and trade facilitation nowadays and in the future. The numerous challenges faced also explain the speed of development in the area of border control, driven by the rapid increase in worldwide travellers and global trade, as well as by completely unexpected events such as the ongoing global pandemic.

Despite the obvious progress, certain regions are still struggling to meet the basic standards and requirements needed to ensure effective BM. This is mainly due to a lack of human, material and financial resources, but in some cases also due to a lack of political will, an unstable and unpredictable security environment, a lack of delimitated and demarcated borders, or the presence of armed conflicts within the vicinity of border areas. Border officials require constant training to provide them with the skills needed to keep up with contemporary challenges and perform their daily duties in a qualified manner. As highlighted by Mr. Maciej Popowski, Acting Director General at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), “one should understand the complexity of challenges for border management staff, who, in major airports, have to make decisions on an incoming traveller in about six seconds – based on the blink of an eye and on real-time information appearing on a screen”.

Given the dynamic nature of the challenges facing BM professionals, the Conference explored how a step change from the management of borders towards their comprehensive governance may provide the tools needed to meet them. The joint conclusion was that these challenges can only be successfully addressed through close cooperation and coordination between all relevant BM actors. Hence, state borders can be managed more successfully through improved communication, information exchange and mutual assistance between various border agencies, while at the same allowing proper social and economic development. As stated by Mr. Michael Spindelegger, Director General of ICMPD, ‘borders should never turn into obstacles to development’.

The Conference was organised by ICMPD with the financial support of several EU-funded initiatives, including the Prague Process financed under the Mobility Partnership Facility. The fourth International Border Management Conference will take place in November 2021.