Frontex: explaining the autonomy of the EU border and coast guard agency

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This research will go into the evolution of institutional characteristics of the European border patrol agency (Frontex). Frontex was started in 2004 with the goal of exchanging information and best practices between the border patrol agencies of the European member states. Over the years more autonomy got delegated from the member state level towards the agency. This resulted in less checks and balances on Frontex’ conduct and the freedom to acquire guns and vessels and choose what and how they wanted to orchestrate operations. This paper will use Multi Level Governance (MLG) as a theory to research how this shift came to be. MLG looks at the division of power between different layers of governance, in this case within the European Union (EU). All these different levels have their own preferences and their own ways of affecting Frontex’ policy, by using MLG there is room to take all of these into account and paint a complete picture. This research will use process tracing as its most important method. Two causal processes will be followed, the first goes into the preferences of Frontex itself, mainly shaped by institutional survival and interest groups. The second is about why the different actors that formally have a controlling role over the agency allowed its growing autonomy. The main reason was that these actors are dependent on popular support, while migration is a hot topic, this results in them depoliticizing the topic and giving responsibility and instruments to Frontex, which allowed growing autonomy in Frontex.
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