Thursday

2nd Dec 2021

EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex

  • Pressure on Frontex has intensified following last year's media reports implicating the agency in illegal push backs (Photo: Turkish Coast Gaurd)

MEPs in the European Parliament are pushing to open an inquiry into the EU's border agency Frontex as the negotiations on mandate and scope continue.

"We aspire to do it in two weeks, but maybe it is ambitious given the difficulties for bilateral negotiations, also with the current circumstances of Covid," said Spanish far-left MEP Sira Rego.

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Rego made her comments earlier this week in a briefing with reporters, pointing out that 177 signatures are needed for the inquiry to launch. There are 705 MEPs in total.

"We have this feeling that we have an agency, which is out of control," she said.

But the two-week deadline appears unlikely. Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strik pointed out there also needs to be a political majority among the political groups' leaders in the so-called conference of presidents.

"There are so many steps to be taken, also a decision on the mandate. It is really not a matter of weeks, that's the problem," she said in a telephone call on Tuesday (19 January). A possible work around would be to narrow the scope down to Frontex in a special committee.

"I don't see it happening very quickly, maybe if we limited it to Frontex," she said, adding she ideally wants the probe to include the role of the European Commission and others.

The Greens, S&D, Renew Europe and the left-wing GUE are meeting today to discuss.

The demand for an inquiry into the Warsaw-based agency was first floated late last year, amid increasing calls among MEPs for the resignation of its executive-director, Fabrice Leggeri.

Leggeri defended the role of his agency at a European Parliament hearing on 1 December - but now also has to contend with a investigation into it by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf.

According to a source, Olaf raided Leggeri's office less than a week after his appearance in parliament. A second source alleged that Olaf had also raided the office of his chief-of-staff, Thibault de La Haye Jousselin, for possible serious misconduct.

Rego said the probe is also linked to the failure of the agency to hire some 40 fundamental rights officers.

Leggeri blamed it on a dispute with the European Commission.

He told MEPs at the December hearing that he had been asked to withdraw the vacancy notice for these 40 jobs.

"I was forced to withdraw it because it was said it was not a managerial post," he said.

"I explained that a person who has to manage 50 people with €2m per year, is a managerial post," he said, adding that the European Commission took months to understand the situation.

"I am sorry we are so late with the 40 monitors and on top of that our establishment plan was reduced, which means 100 posts were taken away from Frontex," he said.

But his defence has failed to placate some MEPs, who also say the agency has been implicated in push backs of migrants - following a joint investigation from Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, ARD and TV Asahi.

The media outlets had documented six instances where the agency was either directly involved in a push back or in close proximity to one. Leggeri has denied those claims.

On Tuesday (19 January), MEPs in the European Parliament appeared to toughen their tone against Leggeri during a wider discussion on migrants at the EU's external borders.

"The executive director of Frontex is co-responsible for these breaches and his remaining in post is unacceptable," said Birgit Sippel, a German socialist MEP, of the push backs.

Similar comments were made by Dutch liberal Renew Europe Sophia In' t Veld.

But she also called out the centre-left S&D group and the centre-right EPP. The pair, she said, are hesitating when it comes to the inquiry into Frontex.

"Renew has proposed (already a while back, just after the revelations in Der Spiegel) to do an inquiry into Frontex," she said, via email.

She also said the S&D "has been dithering and evasive" on whether to support the inquiry.

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.

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EU anti-fraud office launches probe into Frontex

EUobserver was tipped off about the investigation by an anonymous source, who said Olaf had raided the offices of Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri and his chef de cabinet in early December given alleged misconduct.

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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.

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