MEP Elmar BROK: Information on ‚Mare Nostrum‘ and ‚Triton‘

Elmar Brok, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs:

Joint Operation Triton (Triton) is a Frontex coordinated joint operation, requested by the Italian authorities to reinforce border control activities off the Italian southern coasts of Sicily and Calabria. Triton will start its activities on 1 November 2014.

The details of Triton, including the operational area and the necessary assets, have been agreed between Frontex and Italy, as the host state, on the basis of the requests for assistance made by the Italian authorities. The final setting of the operation fully matches the requests made by the Italian authorities. Triton will rely on human and technical resources made available by the participating Member States.

Frontex does not own naval vessels or aircraft of its own. EU Member States donate ships and aircraft for each Frontex joint operation. For Triton to become fully operational, Frontex has sent a request to all EU Member States to contribute the necessary equipment in order to support the Italian authorities in border-control activities in the Mediterranean. Frontex has also contacted the European Commission with a request for funding of the operation.

Today 21 EU Member States have indicated their willingness to participate with personnel (a total of 65 officers have been pledged) or technical equipment at the start of the joint operation Triton. The technical equipment pledged so far includes 4 aircrafts, 1 Helicopter, 4 Open Shore vessels, 1 coastal Patrol Vessel and 2 Coastal patrol boats. Germany will provide policemen and one helicopter.

Triton’s budget is estimated at EUR 2.9 million per month. In order to finance the launch and the first phase of Triton, funds have been reallocated from the Internal Security Fund and from within the Frontex budget. An increase of the Frontex 2015 budget has to be agreed by the European Parliament and the Council in order to finance the operation with the same intensity in the year 2015 and in the longer run. Parliament has, however, already indicated its willingness to add EUR 20 million to the Frontex budget to secure sufficient funds for Triton in 2015.

It is important to stress that Triton and Mare Nostrum are operations which are different in scope and that Triton does not seek to replace Mare Nostrum, but to reinforce border control and management along the Italian southern coasts of Sicily and Calabria.

Mare Nostrum is a search and rescue operation under the exclusive responsibility of Italy. It operates up to 15 sea miles from the Libyan coast. Triton will operate between 12 and 30 sea miles off the southern coast of Sicily and Calabria (the outreach capacity will be more limited). Because search and rescue is a national competence of EU Member States, Triton will focus on sea border control operations, but may include relief operations to migrants in distress, if necessary.

The Italian Minister of Interior, Angelino Alfano, has indicated that with the launch of Triton, the Italian authorities intend to bring Mare Nostrum to an end. The Italian Navy has, however, indicated that, for the time being, Mare Nostrum search and rescue operations will continue and that no decision on the end of Mare Nostrum has been taken yet. This is important as the combination of Triton and Mare Nostrum would secure a broader spectrum of activities and would be able to combine sea border control with search and rescue operations. The Italian authorities should be encouraged to do everything possible to keep Mare Nostrum on-going in parallel with Triton. Search and rescue operations are and remain a national competence and by keeping Mare Nostrum on-going, Italy would ensure compliance with International law.

Britain has criticised the launch of Triton, expressing its concern that it may increase the capacity of smugglers to convince migrants to cross the sea, as they will be rescued by EU authorities at some point. Britain believes that the EU should focus more on fighting human smuggling in the Southern Mediterranean and in reinforcing the capacity of countries like Tunisia to manage their borders. Nonetheless, Britain will contribute with naval personnel to Triton.

It is important to stress that Triton is the first step and only one component of a comprehensive approach by the EU and its Member States directed at addressing the issue of irregular migration and human smuggling to the EU. Reinforced assistance to countries which are the main source of migration, as well as reinforced migration schemes, including temporary migration, and humanitarian visas will have to be considered. Cooperation with third countries on border management will be essential.

The new HR/VP, Federica Mogherini, has already indicated that stability and security in the Southern Mediterranean and adequate migration schemes must one of the priorities of the new Commission.

Kontakt: Elmar.Brok@ep.europa.eu