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23rd Oct 2021

MEPs agree to mandate and probe into Frontex

MEPs have opted for a smaller probe into the EU's under-fire border guard agency, Frontex.

The decision on Friday (29 January) means there will not be a standard inquiry committee set up to investigate the allegations against the Warsaw-based agency.

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MEPs from across most political stripes instead chose to create a so-called Frontex scrutiny working group within the civil liberties committee.

A draft mandate of the working group, seen by EUobserver, will look "into all aspects of the functioning of Frontex" in order to produce recommendations.

It will also look at fundamental rights compliance, the agency's internal management, and its transparency and accountability towards the European Parliament.

The move was supported by the Greens, the left-wing GUE, the liberals Renew, the centre-left S&D, and the centre-right EPP.

"This is a very broad support for the proposal to start a separate working group, it will be a permanent one on Frontex," said Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strik.

A full inquiry committee was not set up due to political divisions among the groups.

It means the scope of the inquiry will also be more limited, excluding the role of the European Commission and member states.

"On the one hand it is regrettable, on the other, at least we can start now," Strik said.

That was echoed by by Spanish GUE MEP, Sira Rego.

She said her group had also pressed for an actual inquiry committee, saying the governance behind Frontex needs to be changed.

"We will do it in the working group because even if it is not what we wanted, at least it will leave us the space to scrutinise Frontex' actions," she said, in an emailed statement.

For their part, the S&D MEPs say the working group will aim to expose the full extent of Frontex's "failings when it comes to respecting fundamental rights."

The probe will be composed of two MEPs from each political group with a plan to carry out a fact-finding mission within the first four months of its inception.

Frontex has come under intense scrutiny and political pressure over the past year.

The agency has reportedly been implicated in push backs, an illegal practice of forcing would be asylum seekers to return from where they came.

Those allegations were documented through a joint investigation from Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, ARD and TV Asahi.

The media outlets had found six instances where the agency was either directly involved in a push back or in close proximity to one.

Fabrice Leggeri, the executive director of Frontex, has denied those claims.

A new probe by the EU's anti-fraud office Olaf is now also looking into Leggeri and his chief of cabinet. The Olaf probe is linked to alleged misconduct as well as staffing issues.

That point was made by EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson.

Johansson told reporters, following a meeting with interior ministers, that the agency is unable to function properly given the staff shortfalls.

"There should be three deputy executive directors. We have zero," she said.

"We should have 40 fundamental rights monitors. We have zero," she added.

She also noted that Frontex still doesn't have a permanent fundamental rights officer.

"I expect them, the management board and the executive director, to focus on addressing these issues," she said.

Frontex's mandate was enlarged in December 2019.

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