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23rd Apr 2021

Frontex takes transparency activists to EU court

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

The EU's border agency Frontex has launched renewed legal proceedings against a pair of pro-transparency campaigners.

The Warsaw-based agency is trying to recuperate almost €24,000 in legal fees after winning an EU general court case against Luisa Izuzquiza and Arne Semsrott.

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"They will be seeking the amount of legal fees corresponding to our case against us plus the new costs associated to this new case," Izuzquiza told EUobserver on Tuesday (1 December).

The pair had initially sought access to the name, flag and type of each vessel deployed by Frontex in the central Mediterranean under its Joint Operation Triton.

They pointed out Frontex had already disclosed such information about some of its operations, often through Twitter.

The agency had for instance once posted an image of a Triton ship on its website, which it then later retracted - and is illustrating this article.

But Frontex refused the pair's requests, citing security issues and was then taken to the EU general court - which sided with the agency in a November 2019 ruling.

Now Frontex has lodged an application with the same court, last month, to initiate proceedings against the pair for not having paid up.

"What they are tying to say is that if you ever dare take us to court again be prepared to be slapped with a five-figure legal bill," said Izuzquiza.

The campaigners had earlier this year launched a petition to get Frontex to retract the legal bill.

Some 87,000 people have signed it, including dozens of NGOs.

It was also through freedom of information requests filed by Izuzquiza and Semsrott to Frontex on EUobserver's behalf that this website was able to break a story about Greek push backs.

For its part, Frontex says the court had ordered Izuzquiza and Semsrott to pay its legal fees.

Frontex argues receiving the money ensures sound financial management and protects the financial interests of the EU.

"As a public institution relying on the funds that ultimately come from European taxpayers, we cannot refuse a court ruling that asks the parties that sued us to pay the legal costs," said a Frontex spokesperson, in an email.

The agency's annual budget for 2020 was €460m.

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.

Frontex hits activist pair with €24,000 legal bill

Two pro-transparency campaigners received a €23,700 bill from the EU's border agency Frontex after having lost a court case. Frontex's budget for 2020 is €460m. The campaigners refuse to pay, saying the agency doesn't need the money.

Exclusive

Frontex spent €94,000 on a dinner in Warsaw

The European Border and Coast Guard Day is held every May. The event includes movies, football and volleyball matches between Frontex and national border guards, shooting competitions and exercises to detect smugglers.

Frontex embroiled in new transparency case

Last October, Der Spiegel published an investigation into illegal pushbacks off the Greek islands, implicating the EU's border agency Frontex. Journalists asked Frontex to release location data of its vessels, so has an MEP - without success.

MEPs seek parliament inquiry into Frontex

Some MEPs now want a formal inquiry into Frontex, plus member states, and the European Commission over allegations of illegal pushbacks. Dutch MEP Tineke Strik says she has so far received backing from the Greens, liberals and far-left GUE.

Frontex redacts its hospitality spending figures

The EU's border agency Frontex has blacked-out entire documents on how it spends EU taxpayer money on itself, including gala dinners and hotels. The agency, whose annual budget has soared to €544m, claims there is "no overriding public" interest.

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Analysis

Frontex scrutiny on rights violations is a PR stunt

Greece denies any illegal pushbacks at sea. The EU takes their version of events as face value, in a system unable and unwilling to shed doubt on Greek authorities - posing accountability questions on the EU's border guard agency Frontex.

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