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25th Jul 2021

Frontex transparency dispute goes to EU court

  • An EU Triton vessel clearly identified - by a photo released by Frontex, despite its refusal now to release such details (Photo: Frontex)

The EU's border and coast guard agency, Frontex, is about to have another day in court.

On 2 July, the general court of the European Union in Luxembourg will be holding a public hearing after the Warsaw-based Frontex turned down an access to documents request submitted by a pair of pro-transparency campaigners.

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Luisa Izuzquiza, along with her colleague Arne Semsrott, had sought access to the name, flag and type of each vessel deployed by Frontex in the central Mediterranean under its Joint Operation Triton.

"It's about the court saying you need to be transparent, you do not have a special status, whatever your activity," Izuzquiza told this website on Tuesday (June 18), noting she hopes for a final judgement before the end of the year.

Triton is a border control and surveillance operation aimed at cracking down on migrant smugglers at sea. It was launched in late 2014 after Italy ended its much larger search and rescue mission, Mare Nostrum.

This public hearing comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague against the European Union and where Triton is implicated.

On paper, such assets were on loan from EU states and coordinated by Frontex, in an operation based out of Italy.

The limited size and mandate of Triton, in comparison to Mare Nostrum, meant many more people were at risk of dying.

Izuzquiza and Semsrott requested the Triton details spanning the period 1 June 2017 to 30 August 2017. Frontex refused, citing public security issues.

The agency claimed the disclosure of such information, combined with other public information, may end up allowing sophisticated criminals to figure out the location of the boats and thus evade capture.

But Izuzquiza and Semsrott dispute this logic, noting the location of vessels deployed to the operation cannot be traced through any public means and that the information requested relates to events in the past.

Both also pointed out that comparable information for vessels deployed under Joint Operation Triton had already been made public in 2016 without incident.

Izuzquiza says Frontex claims to have a special status on transparency.

"One of the issues with Frontex is that they claim they have a special status when it comes to transparency because they do law enforcement activities," said Izuzquiza, noting that such a status does not exist in EU law.

Frontex has grown over the years in size and in scope, and funding appears to increase as the number of migrants entering Europe actually decreases.

Just under 32,000 have arrived so far this year, compared to some 52,000 over the same period in 2018.

In 2005, the Frontex budget was around €6m. Next year, it may get €420.6m.

Whatever the migrant arrival figures, much of the EU money is set to finance a standing corps of 10,000 border guards by 2027.

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