On 14 June 2011 at Iztok Hall of the National Assembly, the Center for the Study of Democracy in cooperation with the Internal Security and Public Order Committee held a round table entitled Cooperation between Customs Administrations and Border Guards for better management of the External Borders of the European Union. The participants included Mr. Tzvetan Tzvetanov, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Mr. Konstantin Igash, Minister of Administration and the Interior of Romania, Mr. Vanio Tanov, Head of the Customs Agency, Mr. Zaharin Penov, Head of GD Border Police, diplomats, representative of law-enforcement agencies, the private sector, and media.
The participants were presented with the findings of the study on best practices on the cooperation between customs administrations and border guards in all 27 member states of the European Union along with recommendations to the European Commission and Member States with regard to possible practical measures and policies. The round table was opened by Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Mr. Anastas Anastasov, Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly and Chairman of the Internal Security and Public Order Committee and Dr. Marko Arndt, Director of the Sofia Office of Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
In his opening remarks Dr. Shentov underlined that the issue of cooperation between customs administrations and border guards of the member states of the European Union is one of the structural problems in the area of justice and home affairs of the EU. Different reasons with regard to operational cooperation, institutional culture (one of a civil-administrative or paramilitary type), political pressure, etc. underpin the varying extent of cooperation between these two institutions within the European Union, becoming less intensive from the Scandinavian countries to South East European countries.
Mr. Anastas Anastasov, Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly and Chairman of the Internal Security and Public Order Committee, pointed out that recent instability in some regions of the world exerts increasing pressure upon the external borders of the EU. This new environment calls for the adoption and implementation of new measures. That is especially relevant to Bulgaria with its upcoming full-fledged membership of the Schengen Agreement. Mr. Anastasov praised the Center for the Study of Democracy for study and its contribution to increase security of external borders. In conclusion he said that the Parliament is ready to provide the necessary legislation to facilitate the improvement of cooperation between customs and border guards in Bulgaria.
Dr. Marco Arndt, Director of the Sofia Office of Konrad Adenauer Foundation, emphasized how important good border management is. Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area is not far away and the country will face such problems as increased immigration flows that could also be targeted for the aims of organized crime. Good border management is a complex process but CSD in its study managed to define the difficulties that both institutions face and also formulates recommendations that would improve security of the external borders of the EU.
The representatives of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Mr. Philip Gounev, Research Fellow, and Mr. Tihomir Bezlov, Senior Analyst, presented the audience with the study based on site visits to border crossing points in twelve countries and more than 200 interviews. Eleven areas of cooperation between customs administrations and border guards were studied. Two main groups of member states emerged. The first is made up of the Scandinavian countries, also including Germany and the UK, which search for and implement effective cooperation forms. In this way more effective security of borders is achieved as well as avoidance of duplication of functions, especially during crises when ways of cost savings are sought. The second group is characterized by a low extent of cooperation between customs administrations and border guards resulting from different institutional cultures. Mr. Bezlov focused on the problem on how and to what extent best practices on the cooperation between customs and border guards are transferable to Bulgaria. He also underlined the new risks that the country will face with its accession to the Schengen area, such as immigration flows to the EU and cigarette smuggling.
Mr. Tzvetan Tzvetanov, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, pointed out that over the last years there has been an improvement in the cooperation between Bulgaria’s Customs Agency and DG Border Police. The changing environment requires new regulations on cooperation and the development of compensatory mechanisms especially with Bulgaria entering the Schengen Area. Mr. Tzvetanov underlined the increasing role of FRONTEX with regard to border security and the part it is playing in tackling migration flows from North Africa to Greece and Italy. The mechanism for controlled deliveries, jointly implemented by Customs and GDBOP has led to a number of positive results in conducting a series of operations on seizures of contraband goods, destroying channels for cocaine and heroin smuggling and apprehending their organizers. Mr. Tsvetanov underscored the importance not only of the cooperation between the Customs Agency and the Ministry of Interior but also among the institutions of the other Member States and European agencies such as Europol and OLAF.
Mr. Konstantin Igash, Minister of Administration and the Interior of Romania, pointed out that Bulgaria and Romania, two countries with common goals one of which accessing the Schengen Area, have always had good relations. Romania has problems very similar to Bulgaria’s with regard to countering corruption, excise goods smuggling and organized crime. Unlike Bulgaria, though, he pointed out that the priority issues were the smuggling of construction materials, foods and oil products, which do the most serious damage to the national budget. Over the last years Romania has made systematic efforts to improve the cooperation between customs and border guards.
In his closing remarks Mr. Tzvetanov emphasized that the newly assigned investigative powers of the Customs Agency should be compounded with the necessary administrative capacity in order to be carried out successfully. He reminded that during the previous period when they had such functions, 2006-2009 very little work was actually done. In the area of cooperation among the Customs Agency, Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office there is a need for such reforms that would lead to feasible results. Mr. Tzvetanov thanked the Hungarian government for the positive results achieved during the country’s Presidency of the European Union.
Agenda (Adobe PDF, 16,1 KB)
Policy Brief No. 30: Practices and Forms of Cooperation between Customs and Border Guards in the European Union (Adobe PDF, 314 KB)
Presentation by Tihomir Bezlov, Senior Analyst, and Philip Gounev, Research Fellow, Center for the Study of Democracy (Adobe PDF, 415 KB)