MEPs have urged the “sensitive” findings of a year-long European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) investigation into the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) be disclosed. The agency is stepping up support at the Ukrainian border and has received a greenlight for technical discussions on deployments to Senegal.
An investigation launched in January 2021 after OLAF raided the offices of Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri and his head of Cabinet was concluded on 15 February. The probe looked into harassment and misconduct allegations, as well as the agency’s involvement in pushback operations. According to an exclusive report by Der Spiegel, Frontex senior management has been involved in cover-ups of illegal acts, including “leaving of migrants adrift in engineless life rafts, a well-documented pushback tactic of the Greek Coast Guard”. The findings are reportedly so “sensitive” that access has been limited to the Frontex Management Board members and selected MEPs – the latter in a closed meeting. On behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE committee), MEP Tineke Strik is urging the release of the findings. Strik, who has participated in long-term scrutiny of Frontex, states that the findings: “need to be disclosed to the public, although we understand that some parts need to be anonymized. Frontex is an EU-agency and therefore it is conducting its operations on behalf of the EU. So we all have the right to know whether the organization is functioning properly, and hold them accountable for misconduct if this occurs”. The LIBE Committee demands an answer from the Frontex Management Board within 15 working days. Reportedly the board is itself considering disciplinary action over the findings. The lack of transparency contradicts the European Ombudsman’s earlier demand for the establishment of a transparency framework for EU justice and home affairs agencies in January 2021. More than a year later, Frontex has finally acted on the obligation to create a register of documents. However, as pointed out by Statewatch the agency still keeps a “report detailing findings of great public interest” confidential.
Frontex is the largest EU agency with a budget of 750 million euro in 2022. It has long faced scrutiny including from beyond the European Ombudsman, LIBE’s Frontex Scrutiny Working Group (FSWG), the Frontex Management Board itself, and in two cases against the agency is raised before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). France, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, recently proposed a new EU internal borders council for Schengen. Under this proposal, Frontex would spearhead the EU response to “migratory pressure” at the external borders. Frontex head Leggeri recently sparked controversy over the statement: “some talk about ‘refoulement’, but it is not a legal term” while framing pushbacks and border control as a “balance”. In Switzerland a referendum is planned to decide on a proposed increase of funding for Frontex from 24 million CHF in 2021 to 61 million in 2027. While campaigners underline Frontex complicity in suffering at the European borders, the government points to commitments under the Schengen and Dublin cooperation for the non-EU state and points to the consequences of a no vote.