Thursday

13th May 2021

Frontex redacts its hospitality spending figures

  • Frontex spent €494,542.46 for the one-day event but refused to provide a break down of the costs (Photo: Frontex)

The EU's border agency Frontex is refusing to release details on how much its spent on dinners at events to celebrate itself.

EUobserver had earlier this year revealed that the Warsaw-based agency spent €94,000 of European taxpayers' money at a restaurant in 2015.

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  • Frontex spent €94,000 at this upmarket restaurant in Warsaw in 2015 (Photo: Belvedere)

The disclosure has since led to at least two European Parliament amendments where MEPs are on Monday and Tuesday (23 March) threatening to dock its massive budget.

The 2015 gala dinner was part of its so-called European Border and Coast Guard Day, an annual event that brings together border guards from across the EU.

The agency had initially provided a break down of costs for 2015 but offered only totals for 2016 to 2019.

The figures for 2015 was €360,499.45, for 2016 (€371,063.31), for 2017 (€341,324.58), for 2018 (€580,152.22) and 2019 (€494,542.46) - a total of €2.1m.

Each figure represents a total for a one-day event.

The agency has since refused to reveal how much of its 2016 to 2019 budget was dedicated to the evening dinners, when asked.

The question was asked because the dinner in 2015 was its biggest ticket item in the €360,499.45 budget for the day.

Freedom of information requests were instead responded to with eight almost entirely blacked-out documents.

One five-page document, entitled "summary of costs", revealed only the words "Sheraton Sopot Hotel" as well as the May dates in 2018.

Hotel names and event dates were also given for the 2016 (Narvil, Windsor), 2017 (Narvil) and 2019 (Arlamow).

Four other documents entitled "offers" were also entirely redacted.

In a letter, Frontex explained that there "is no overriding public" interest to reveal the numbers.

The agency has since stopped holding these annual events.

But it still claims any disclosure would "undermine the protection of commercial interests of Frontex."

The agency's annual total budget has increased considerably since 2015, going from €142m to €544m for this year.

Its entire budget for the next few years totals €5.6bn, by far the biggest of any EU agency.

Along with the money comes an expanded mandate, more powers and a future 10,000 standing corps of border guards.

A recent report by pro-transparency campaigners had also faulted Frontex for weak accountability, noting a growing closed-door relationship with the security and defence industry.

MEPs overseeing budgets of the EU institutions and agencies are now looking into the agency's accounts.

The agency has come under considerable scrutiny following allegations of illegal push-backs of prospective asylum seekers.

It has denied any wrongdoing. But it is also under a separate probe by the EU's anti-fraud office Olaf amid reports of harassment and misconduct.

MEPs, in the some 85 amendments tabled on the Frontex budget, have cited the allegations as reasons not sign off on its accounts. On Monday, the majority on the committee voted against signing off on its account, in what is likely an embarrassment for the agency.

A final plenary vote is set to take place in April.

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 takes transparency activists to EU court

The EU border agency Frontex's annual budget for 2020 is €460m. Now they are launching court proceedings against two pro-transparency campaigners for not paying them €24,000 in legal fees after losing a case last year.

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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.

Analysis

Frontex is its own worst enemy

The Warsaw-based agency held out 105 days, refusing freedom of information requests, before it finally revealed a partial breakdown of costs linked to its annual European Border and Coast Guard Day. Such delays, on spending, tend to arouse suspicions.

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