Thursday

17th Jun 2021

Frontex 'own worst enemy', says EU auditor

The EU border agency Frontex is unable to carry out its core duties and is ill-prepared to take on additional future tasks, according to internal auditors.

The findings on Monday (7 June) by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Auditors offers a damning account into an EU agency already steeped in controversy over alleged pushbacks and other violations.

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"Frontex is not presently discharging their duty effectively," the report's lead author, Leo Brincat, told reporters.

"We found that is even more worrying, at a time when Frontex is being given added responsibility," he said.

Among those future responsibilities will be the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias), an IT system tracking visa-exempt visitors traveling to Europe.

Frontex is set to host it next year, in what its executive director Fabrice Leggeri, said "will revolutionise border guard work".

But under his watch, the Warsaw-based agency has failed to carry out core tasks assigned to it back in 2016, say the auditors.

"We are not saying 'scrap Frontex' but definitely Frontex is often its own worst enemy," said Brincat, noting the last time the agency was evaluated was in 2015.

It has dramatically increased in size over the years. In 2006 it had €19m budget, which has since increased to €900m for this year.

Brincat says the agency had gone through too many changes too fast without taking any time to analyse their impact and effectiveness.

"Frontex's expansion plan was not the result of any technical study, it was the result of a political decision taken by the council in 2017," he said.

Even the real costs of its numerous operations are unknown.

The agency only offers estimates, saying the real costs can only be determined two years later. But the agency then only reports the global cost, leaving the auditors in the dark.

"It is not broken down by individual operations, or disaggregated into further detail," said another official at European Court of Auditors, who asked not to be named.

The 80-page audit sought to gauge the agency's support to EU member states, when it comes cracking down on "illegal migration and cross-border crime."

These tasks were part of its 2016 mandate, when it officially became the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

Five years later and the auditors say Frontex has largely failed to deliver, finding serious faults in terms of information exchange, vulnerability assessments and operational response.

"On the aspect of cross-border crime, the situation was even more worrying because we found that the information exchange framework had not even yet been established," said Brincat.

The agency's mandate was further expanded in 2019, with the creation of a new standing corps of 10,000 border guards.

Another problem stems from the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur), set up in 2013 to act as a framework for information exchange and cooperation between EU states and Frontex.

It is supposed to offer near real-time information - but spotty and sloppy data entry by some member states means border incidents might not be reported until a week later.

The auditor say the agency needs to make a handful of improvements, including its operational response and use of data.

"It should ensure that all the flaws and weaknesses regarding the 2016 mandate need to be addressed as soon as possible," said Brincat.

For its part, Frontex says it is aware of what needs to be done and has accepted all the recommendations made by the auditors.

"Unfortunately, many of the raised issues are related to external factors outside of the agency's control," the agency's spokesperson said, in an email.

The audit itself covered the period from the end of 2016, when new responsibilities came into force, until February 2020.

The report did not look into alleged pushbacks and other violations, which Brincat said was beyond the scope.

He noted however another report on returns and readmission of irregular migrants, set for September, may cover rights violations as well.

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.

EU commission calls Frontex its new 'Return Agency'

The EU's law enforcement agency Frontex has been helping member states return unwanted migrants. The European Commission now wants it to take a lead role, while hoping to boost the number of voluntary deportations.

Europe needs to help sea rescues, say NGOs

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with Ecre, a Brussels-base NGO, have proposed a plan to increase sea rescues. The call comes ahead of an EU summit later this month among EU heads of state and government.

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