The Government of Finland has decided to reinforce the powers of its Border Guard and to provide it with more capabilities and competencies. The reason given for carrying out this reform is to have a force capable of “quickly and effectively intervene in hybrid threats”. In practice, the decision will allow border agents to take on tasks of security and control of public order in case that Police officers are not present.
The announcement was made on a press release by the Finnish Ministry of Interior. According to the text, the Government has already submitted the amendments to the Border Guard Act, the Aliens Act and certain related acts for approval on 10 January. The amendments are expected to enter into force on 1 April 2019.
The release explains that the changes promoted by the Government intend “in particular” to strengthen the powers of border guards “in the maintenance of public order and security at border crossing points, in the premises of the Border Guard and in areas under the control of the Border Guard at times when the police service is unavailable”.
According to the Ministry of Interior, this means that the powers held by the Border Guard will be the same as those of the police under corresponding situations.
The amendments will clarify the options available to the Border Guard to give and receive executive assistance from other authorities.
Image: Raja ja merivartiokoulu
The Government's intention is that the Border Guard will be authorised to provide the police with armed military assistance in counter-terrorism activities not only in Finnish territorial waters but also at border crossing points and in areas close to the border.
Executive assistance provided by the Defence Forces to the Border Guard can also include “the use of force under the direction of a competent border guard”, as explained in the release.
Provisions on the powers of conscripts when used in support of the Border Guard will be added to the Border Guard Act. Should a need arise in Finland’s security environment, conscripts can temporarily take people's personal identifying characteristics, direct traffic and carry out security checks, for example. Conscripts will not however be deployed to dangerous duties.
Border guards will also have the power to intervene in the case of flying of unmanned aircraft and drones by using force or technical means, if necessary. The Ministry of Interior points out that such powers are necessary for example to safeguard the operations of sea rescue helicopters.
Image: Raja ja merivartiokoulu
Revoke border zone permits
Provisions on the temporary suspension or restriction of waterborne traffic will be added to the Border Guard Act. Moreover, the right of the Border Guard to take temporary possession of property, to revoke border zone permits and to impose restrictions and prohibitions on movement will be extended.
The obligations of a carrier regarding traffic crossing external borders will also be extended to cover the internal borders of the Schengen countries, if border control was to be temporarily reintroduced at the internal borders.
In practice, this will entail the checking of travel documents, the submission of lists of passengers and the obligation to transport individuals out of the country should they be refused entry into Finland. A financial penalty may be imposed on carriers for failure to comply with the obligations, warns the Government.
Image: Kakkois Suomenraja
The Ministry of Interior expects that “better preparedness for hybrid threats will improve the Border Guard's crisis resilience and capacity to manage large-scale incidents”.
The Finnish government considers hybrid threats as a term referred to “various intentional means of putting the state subjected to such threats under pressure, causing damage and uncertainty to it and destabilising it”.
Such means may include influencing through information, attacks against information networks, terrorist or criminal activities, sabotage of critical infrastructure and military operations.
Hybrid threats are also one of the main concerns for the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO). On its National Security Review 2018, this Police special unit includes hybrid influencing among other potential threats to the Finnish State, together with terrorism, cyber espionage and domestic extremism.