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25th Sep 2022

EU lawmakers refuse to sign off Frontex budget

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European lawmakers overseeing the budgets of the EU's border force, Frontex, refused to sign off on its accounts in a move that further entrenches the agency in a litany of problems.

With Frontex senior leadership already under a probe by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, the latest blow adds to a list of wrongdoings by a troubled agency that commands over a half-billion euro annual budget.

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A majority of lawmakers sitting on a budget control committee voted on Thursday (31 March) to postpone Frontex's discharge, a measure used by the European Parliament to hold EU institutions and agencies to account.

Aside from Frontex, all other EU agencies had their books cleared by the committee.

An EUobserver investigation revealing its executive-director Fabrice Leggeri had taken a €8,500 private jet flight from Warsaw to Brussels was cited among the amendments on the votes.

But the biggest issues linked to postponing discharge dealt with the agency's deportation operation of unwanted migrants and rejected asylum seekers from Hungary.

This comes despite Frontex formally pulling out of Hungary early last year, as first reported by EUobserver, following a European Court of Justice case that slammed Budapest for violating EU asylum and return laws.

The European lawmakers were also critical of the agency's alleged involvement of rights abuses in Greece amid media disclosures coordinated by Lighthouse Reports of pushbacks, which are illegal under EU and international law.

Letter sheds light on Olaf report

Frontex maintains it has done nothing wrong but the Olaf report, which has yet to be published, appears to implicate Leggeri and two other senior officials of issues linked to pushbacks.

The agency in 2020 had also registered 17 cases of harassment, which may be addressed in yet another Olaf report.

Pressure is now mounting for the European Commission to table a proposal to get Leggeri fired. Lawyers at front-LEX, a Dutch-based civil society organisation, last week sent a legal notice to EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson.

The notice demands Johansson make a formal proposal for Leggeri's dismissal or face possible court action in Luxembourg.

"We received the letter and we will respond in due time," an EU commission spokesperson, said of the legal notice, in an email.

The European Commission is pressing to have the agency run smoothly in light of the war in Ukraine, which has seen over four million refugees mostly flee to EU member states.

It has actively lobbied European lawmakers sitting on the committee to clear the Frontex budget. This includes a letter sent by Johansson's subordinate Monique Pariat to the budget control committee's chair, ahead of Thursday's discharge vote.

In it, Pariat makes the case that Frontex is doing everything possible to correct its past errors, noting that the agency "is on the right track and has made significant progress."

She says no violations have taken place with Frontex returns from Hungary and that the agency is making the necessary hires to monitor human rights.

She also cites the Olaf report, noting there is no indication that EU funds have been misused.

Of the three people named in the report, only one has so far been given access to the report, she says.

All have been accused of "potential misconduct and/or other irregularities related to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) in relation to possible involvement in and/or cover-up of illegal pushbacks," she said.

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