Today, the Commission issued a communication setting out the strategic framework for European integrated border management for five years, as well as a recommendation to Member States on the mutual recognition of return decisions and the acceleration of returns. At its extraordinary meeting on 9 February 2023, the European Council reiterated the importance of ensuring effective control of the EU’s external land and sea borders as part of a comprehensive approach to migration. Ahead of the next stocktaking meeting of the European Council, the Commission is implementing through these initiatives some of the key actions set out in President von der Leyen’s letter and in the European Council conclusions of 9 February.

Effective European integrated border management

With this communication, the Commission sets out the first multiannual strategic policy cycle for European integrated border management for the next five years.

This is the result of an extensive consultation process between the institutions, which resulted in a common vision for the management of the external borders. It provides a coordinated framework for both national border management authorities and more than 120,000 national border authorities and Frontex staff, guiding their day-to-day work. The key priorities of the strategy have 15 key components, including:

  • Border control, supported by broad-based IT collaboration and interagency collaboration to strengthen immigration governance and crisis preparedness. This will be ensured by the use of modern infrastructure and effective surveillance tools such as cameras and drones; with a coherent and integrated national and situational picture, effective implementation of the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) and sound risk analysis. The EU’s information systems for the management of external borders (Schengen Information System, Entry/Exit System, Visa Information System and European Travel Information and Authorization System) and their interoperability will facilitate border crossing. Increased cooperation between all authorities at national and EU level is key to better understanding, identifying and addressing challenges at the EU’s external borders
  • Search and rescue is a key component of European integrated border management. The need for coordination is a priority between flag states and coastal states, as is the need to develop best practices for timely and complete information sharing.
  • Common EU return system: better coordination between national authorities and European agencies is a key component for strengthening returns. Member States can make full use of the support available from Frontex for all phases of the return process. The returns coordinator supported by the high-level returns network will coordinate the implementation of the operational strategy for more effective returns.
  • Cooperation with third countries should be intensified to contribute to the development of the operational capacities of third countries in the areas of border control, risk analysis, return and readmission and the fight against illegal trafficking. In this context, a particular focus will be placed on the Eastern and Southern Neighbourhoods, as well as on third countries from which the main migration routes to the EU originate or pass. This contributes to the development of mutual and comprehensive migration partnerships with countries of origin and transit.
  • Full respect for fundamental rights: The protection of the EU’s borders must be done with full respect for fundamental rights. Actions by EU and national bodies should be implemented in full compliance with EU law, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and international law, including through effective monitoring mechanisms.

Strengthening cooperation on mutual recognition of return decisions and speeding up returns

An effective EU return system is a central element of a well-functioning immigration and asylum system, as well as the integrated approach outlined in the new pact on migration and asylum. It can also have a deterrent effect on unsafe and irregular migration, helping to prevent the exploitation of migrants by disrupting the business model of criminal trafficking networks and promoting safe legal routes.

With today’s recommendation, the Commission provides guidance on the implementation of mutual recognition of return decisions, filling a gap in the return acquis. It also updates previous guidance provided by the Commission in 2017 on returns and supports Member States in facilitating and speeding up returns.

Building blocks include:

Mutual recognition of return decisions: With the upgraded Schengen Information System which entered into force on 7 March, Member States can now have direct alerts for a decision to return a third-country national issued by another Member State. This allows mutual recognition of return decisions within the EU and rapid implementation of returns from anywhere in Europe. Frontex will be ready to support returning Member States.

More efficient returns: Member States can establish closer links between authorities managing asylum and returns. They are invited to do so through an IT system for the management of return cases based on the model developed by Frontex, which is aligned with the European Border and Coast Guard Regulation. This will ensure timely access to information on third-country nationals for whom a return decision has been issued. The recommendation also provides guidance on preventing the risk of absconding and on alternative measures to detention, which should remain a measure of last resort.

Incentives for voluntary return: It is necessary to provide information about return at an early stage of the process, including during the asylum process. Member States should establish return and reintegration advisory structures to promote voluntary return. For third-country nationals enrolled in these programmes, voluntary returns can be encouraged by not issuing entry bans.

Next steps

Regarding European integrated border management, Frontex has 6 months to turn this strategic direction into an operational and technical strategy. Member States have 12 months to update their national strategies.

The Commission will work closely with Member States to support them in the operational implementation of these actions. The strategic policy evaluation of the European Integrated Border Management is planned to take place in 4 years, with a view to defining a new multiannual policy cycle in 2027. The Commission will also carry out an evaluation of the European Border and Coast Guard Regulation this year.

Regarding returns, to monitor the implementation of the recommendation, Member States will submit an annual report to the Commission, inter alia on the number of mutually recognized return decisions of other Member States.

Specific funding will be provided under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and the instrument for border management and visas, in particular for the mutual recognition of return decisions and to better equip the border and coast guard to effectively protect the external borders . Additional support will be provided to implement the return recommendation, combined with operational and technical support from our organizations.

“Strong external borders are an essential part of our overall approach to migration and asylum, and a cornerstone of our Security Union. With today’s first multiannual European strategy for integrated border management, we are ensuring that all the activities of Member States and Frontex — from border surveillance and combating smuggling to returns — are governed by the same set of common principles and produce results on the spot. Together with our recommendations to improve the efficiency and mutual recognition of return decisions, we create much more than an operational framework. We are building step by step a common EU mindset for managing immigration” said Mr. Margaritis Schinas, vice-president for the Promotion of our European Way of Life.

“The aim of these proposals is to continue to develop a fully operational immigration and asylum management. The European strategy for integrated border management and the recommendation on the mutual recognition of return decisions and the acceleration of returns will help to achieve this functionality. The use of inter-agency and technological tools allows us to manage our shared external borders and more accurately monitor and expedite return decisions. This will give more credibility to the return rates. In this way we can build trust to achieve results in all aspects of migration management, including sustainable legal pathways,” said Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.


The Communication on European Integrated Border Management is an obligation under the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Regulation. It is based on the policy paper adopted by the Commission on 24 May 2022, to which both the Council and the European Parliament contributed. This integrated strategy has a shared vision across all EU institutions and outlines our work at the external borders. The strategic risk analysis provided by Frontex was also reflected in the priorities and guidelines of this Communication. It comes with two appendices, each containing key actions.

The returns recommendation builds on the 2017 recommendation for more effective returns and complements the January 2023 operational strategy for more effective returns.

Lena Flitzani