Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Book Review: Policing Mobility Regimes: Frontex and the Production of the European Borderscape


Céline Hocquet


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Dr. Céline Hocquet, University of Birmingham (UK). Currently a teaching fellow at Birmingham Law School, Céline’s research interests include the EU external migration policy, the EU migration and asylum law system and critical approaches to refugee law. Celine’s PhD focused on the externalisation of EU border and migration controls through cooperation with third countries and the implications of the EU’s security-driven approach to external borders in the light of the 2015 ‘refugee crisis’. Céline is on Twitter at @celine_hocquet

Review of Policing Mobility Regimes: Frontex and the Production of the European Borderscape by Giuseppe Campesi (Routledge, 2022).

Cover of Policing Mobility Regimes

Almost ten years since the deadly tragedy of Lampedusa, when over 300 migrants lost their lives off the Italian island, at least 62 migrants drowned after their boat capsized on the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Italy on 27th February 2023. Although calls for more action to save migrant’s lives were renewed, this recent tragedy is a sharp reminder of the ‘permanent crisis’ at the European Union’s (EU) external borders. Yet this context also calls researchers to further engage with and critically analyse the emergence of EU external border controls. Indeed, since the creation of a free movement area, EU external borders and migration policies have been deeply intertwined with security and humanitarian rhetoric.

Giuseppe Campesi’s book Policing Mobility Regimes: Frontex and the Protection of the European Borderscape starts from this apparently contradictory trend: the EU’s move towards both the opening and closing of borders. More specifically, Campesi’s book develops some critical interrogations of the EU external border regime. In the first chapters of his book, Campesi discusses how borders are theorised in political and social sciences and how this relates to the EU context. Overall, Campesi discusses how the border regime has evolved: moving away from the traditional understanding of borders as states’ linear boundaries to a system where controls operate through various socio-spatial and legal arrangements. Although this is a process that many of us researching border externalisation will be familiar with, Campesi contributes to the field by analysing the re-articulation of the EU border regime through the establishment of the Integrated Border Management (IBM). In this context, Frontex has played a crucial role in governing human mobility.

Moreover, when analysing the philosophy driving EU external border policies, Campesi argues that the establishment of a free movement area pushed for further security policies. Here too, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (formerly the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders) has become a key player in implementing the security-driven management of EU external borders. However, despite being well-known of EU law and European migration scholars, secrecy remains around the agency’s work and its legal responsibility for infringements of migrants’ fundamental rights is frequently put into question. Campesi’s inquiry is therefore highly relevant as chapters 3 and 4 engage with some crucial questions regarding the EU agency’s development. Namely: what are the origins of Frontex? What were the drivers for the creation of a European agency to manage cooperation at external borders? What are the current functions of this agency? And how did its role evolve over time? Campesi’s book provides a detailed discussion of Frontex’ genealogy and relation with the Integrated Border Management. Campesi argues that Frontex developed as a hybrid agency driven by two opposing poles. First, Campesi notes how Frontex is caught between reinforcing supranational border governance while acting in an intergovernmental organisation. Secondly, Frontex is also split between its security functions and the humanitarian principles contained in its legal framework. As a researcher of EU externalisation practices who engaged in drawing the lineage of EU cooperation with third countries since the origins of the common migration policy, I consider historical, social and political contexts essential to critically engage with recent developments in the field. I therefore found Campesi’s discussion essential to provide fundamental contextualisation of Frontex’s work.

What I found of most interest in Campesi’s book is the discussion on databases and data collection in chapter 5. In this chapter, Campesi provides a much-needed genealogy of EU-wide migration and border-control databases and how their development influenced border management. Campesi shows how EU databases evolved from means of identification and border surveillance to the ‘smart borders’. The development of ‘smart borders’ led to a complex system of technological tools aimed at profiling and distinguishing ‘risky’ migrants who need to be strictly controlled from ‘legitimate’ ones who can enjoy unrestricted movement. Here too, Frontex plays a central role by setting risk indicators and profiles that enable to anticipate mobilities as well as to identify unwanted migrants and suspected unauthorised border crossings. Campesi argues that data collection and analysis create new forms of hierarchies in the EU border and migration control system by expanding discriminatory surveillance tools. Although the racialised aspects of ‘smart borders’ go beyond the scope and purpose of this book, Campesi raises some crucial questions on the role of Frontex and of data-driven border controls which would benefit from further critical engagement. The growing use of surveillance technology combined with the EU’s security-driven and racialised philosophy of borders require more discussions from critical border and migration scholars.

Overall, Campesi’s book is particularly timely in a field that will no-doubt gain growing relevance. The analysis of Frontex’s functions today and its structural tensions between security and humanitarian motives will be highly pertinent to researchers on the externalisation of border and migration controls in Europe. Even more so in the context of the EU’s shift away from direct push-back methods to a system of control by proxy where Frontex has become a key player and driver. As the European Border and Coast Guard Agency faces an action for damages resulting from its pushback activities in front of the General Court of the European Union, it is essential for researchers in border studies and EU migration lawyers to become more familiar and critically engage with the agency’s genealogy, functions and use of surveillance technologies.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

C. Hocquet. (2023) Book Review: Policing Mobility Regimes: Frontex and the Production of the European Borderscape . Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2023/05/book-review-policing-mobility-regimes-frontex-and. Accessed on: 04/12/2023

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