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11th Jul 2020

Frontex hits activist pair with €24,000 legal bill

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

The EU's border agency Frontex has sent two pro-transparency campaigners a €23,700 bill after winning a court case against them last November.

"Our case was the first case against Frontex, so if this becomes the norm, having to pay five-figure legal fees for taking them to court for a human rights case, then everyone is going to think twice," Luisa Izuzquiza told EUobserver on Wednesday (26 February).

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  • Frontex, which has a €420m annual budget, sent a €24,000 legal bill to activists (Photo: Frontex)

The Warsaw-based agency's budget for this year was €460m and is set to increase to some €11bn over the next seven years, as its powers expand.

Last November, it won the case at the General Court of the European Union against Izuzquiza and Arne Semsrott.

The pair had sought access to the name, flag and type of each vessel deployed by Frontex in the central Mediterranean under its Joint Operation Triton. They argued that the agency already discloses a lot of such information about some of its operations, often through Twitter.

Frontex had also posted an image of one such ship in Triton on its website, which it later retracted - and is now top image of this article.

"You can't choose to disclose some information for publicity reasons and then when you are asked by citizens that are trying to hold you accountable refuse it," said Izuzquiza .

But Frontex still refused, citing public security. The court agreed.

The pair in late January then received a €23,700 unitemised bill to cover Frontex's legal expenses. That bill was sent about a week before the two could appeal.

Izuzquiza and Semsrott won't pay. They also will not appeal.

But both have since launched a petition to get Frontex to retract the bill. Over 20,000 signatures had been collected within hours of launch.

"Very honestly we think Frontex has enough money already, we do not want to raise money to go to them," said Izuzquiza, noting their petition will instead allow people to donate to NGO rescue boats operating in the Mediterranean.

Frontex responds

When asked why they sent the bill, Frontex told this website it is complying with the court's decision. It said they aim to balance transparency and protecting sensitive data when it comes to Frontex joint operations.

"The ruling confirmed this balance," said a Frontex spokesperson, in an email.

He then pointed out that Frontex last year had increased the number of documents made available on its websites and had also processed 255 public access to documents applications.

Frontex transparency dispute goes to EU court

The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg will next month hold a public hearing on the refusal by Frontex, the EU's border agency, to release documents concerning its border control and surveillance operation known as Triton.

NGO rescue boats do not receive Frontex alerts

Rescue boat Sea-Watch doesn't receive alerts from the EU's border agency, Frontex whenever its surveillance aircraft spots migrants in distress at sea. Frontex says it follows procedures, which Oxfam calls a carefully-crafted plan to prevent people from arriving.

Investigation

'Inhumane' Frontex forced returns going unreported

The independence of Frontex's monitoring system to make sure people are treated humanely when they are forcibly returned is in question. Efforts by some national authorities are underway to create a more credible parallel system based on transparency and scrutiny.

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