13.3.2014 | Von:
Mechthild Baumann

Border Economies

Ein Hubschrauber überwacht den Luftraum über der Grenze.A helicopter is seen monitoring the airspace over the European border. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

The political goal of managing the external borders of the EU called a wide range of actors who offer their services either in the managing of external borders or to refugees and asylum seekers who intend to enter the EU. As a consequence, real competition has developed in this field.

Due to the impermeability of the border, many refugees are "stranded" at the external borders of the EU. Among these refugees are those who classify as refugees under the Geneva Convention on Refugees as well as people who are commonly referred to as "economic refugees". A demand for cheap illegal employment has consequently developed in the EU as well as in transit countries. [1] Parallel to this, a smuggling market developed, in which smugglers bring refugees across the border in exchange for money. In 2012, it cost around 1,000 euro per person to be smuggled from Tunisia to Lampedusa. So-called "guarantee" or "all inclusive" smuggling is considerably more expensive [2] because the smugglers make as many attempts as are necessary to bring the refugees into the destination country. Many smugglers are not involved in large networks of organized crime, but are local residents. Human smuggling has developed into a profitable business for fishermen in the Mediterranean - whose incomes have decreased over the years due to the overfishing of the sea - because they possess the necessary equipment for smuggling with their boats.

Competition has also erupted amongst those actors who campaign for the rights of refugees. For example, established on the Italian island of Lampedusa are various non-governmental and governmental organizations who "manage" mobility, offering the EU their services in the receiving and returning of refugees or those who research flight and immigration on-site. [3] The local population also profits from the construction and maintenance of reception centers as it creates jobs and generates development funds from the EU (for example from the Argo program). [4]

Border Management Industry

The by far largest legal market in connection with EU borders and their security is served by industries that offer surveillance hardware and software. The existing information systems (SIS, VIS, EURODAC) first had to be developed and must be maintained after being put into operation. New technologies (EES, RTP, EUROSUR, etc.) are currently being developed. The required systems, applications and devices range from satellites to biometric scanners, patrol boats and radio devices. Consequently, an entire border management industry branch has developed.

Bitkom, a German association which represents a large number of companies that produce software and hardware for border security, demands that:

"Along the migration process, transfer points are to be identified and appropriate measures for migration management implemented at these points. This new process of understanding must be rooted both nationally and internationally and be supported technologically within migration policies. The necessity to confront the increasing technological facilities of smugglers and human traffickers with adequate and efficient surveillance mechanisms is pivotal. This reduces the total costs of border management in the medium term and reduces irregular migration in the long term." [5]

Furthermore, linking the “world of research and industry” with EU Member States’ national authorities responsible for controlling external borders is part of what Frontex sees as their responsibility (see above). [6] One of the ways Frontex seeks to achieve this goal is to regularly organize conferences and fairs. [7]

An important player in this area is the EADS Group, which is Europe’s largest aerospace company as well as an important defense supplier. EADS is specialized in border management technologies, for example having equipped Romania with a billion euro border security system in preparation for accession into the Schengen area. [8] Romania, like all accession countries to the EU, received financial support under the “Schengen Facility” to bring its external borders up to EU standards. Other examples include the digital radio network, TETRA, or the Eurocopter (helicopter) built by EADS, both of which are employed not only at the external borders of the EU but also along US borders.

In addition, a part of the EU research funds is dedicated to the development of new technologies for the management of the external borders. Between 2007 and 2010, around 41 million euro were given to the Seventh Framework Programme for Research for research projects on border security. [9] For the following period until 2020 the EU plans to expand research particularly on border security:

"The Commission intends to make full use of the PCP instrument set out in Horizon 2020 and devote a significant part of the security research budget on this instrument. [10] This novel funding approach should bring research closer to the market by bringing together industry, public authorities and end users from the very beginning of a research project. The Commission considers that border security and aviation security are the most promising areas for undertaking PCP." [11]


Jahn et. al. (2006); Hasse (2007); Eigmüller (2007).
Friese (2012, p. 71.)
Friese (2012, p. 69).
Friese (2012, p. 74).
Bitkom (2007).
Frontex video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-rIlXq5wOQ (accessed: 9-12-2013)
Frontex: ABC Conference and Exhibition - Invitation for Industry http://www.frontex.europa.eu/news/abc-conference-and-exhibition-invitation-for-industry-9jmBHJ (accessed: 9-12-2013)
EADS (2004).
European Commission (2010b).
PCP stands for pre-commercial procurement and means the acquisition of research and development performance though public clients. In a product development cycle, PCP is in the phase before commercialization. http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/pcp/overview_en.html
European Commission (2012).
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