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25th Sep 2022

Frontex caretaker leader could face EU court

  • The Hellenic Coast Guard has been accused of illegal pushbacks (Photo: Aegean Boat Report)
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The EU's border police Frontex may end up in the European Court in Luxembourg for maintaining operations in Greece despite numerous reports of violations.

But the agency's new acting executive-director Aija Kalnaja has so far refrained from pulling Frontex from Greece in light of those violations.

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Kalnaja has been with the agency since mid-2018 and became deputy executive director last year under Fabrice Leggeri, who resigned in May.

She has since been sent a 16-page letter of formal notice from front-LEX , a Dutch-based civil society organisation that advocates for refugees' and migrants' rights, demanding she take action or face possible court action.

On Tuesday (7 June), front-LEX lawyer Iftach Cohen told EUobserver that Kalnaja must invoke article 46 of the agency's rulebook.

The article says the agency's executive director may suspend or terminate any activity, for instance in Greece, if there are persistent rights violations.

But Kalnaja had last week described article 46 as a "blunt weapon", suggesting that the agency had no intention to withdraw from Greece.

"We would like to see that this is the last resort that we apply because it is the change of culture and change of culture is what we ultimately look for," she had told European lawmakers.

She also said that any such culture "will not happen in one day, neither in agency nor in the EU."

The statement is unlikely to assuage critics, following documented violations and illegal pushbacks, implicating Frontex, of people seeking safety in Greece to Turkey and elsewhere.

"Her nomination absolutely doesn't please us and we don't believe in her," said Cohen of Kalnaja.

Cohen also cast doubt on Kalnaja's claim that she has not seen a 200-page report by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf.

The report had faulted Frontex over pushbacks and recommended disciplinary measures against Leggeri and two additional senior Frontex leaders.

"It is really absurd as the acting executive director not being exposed to such an explosive and relevant report," said Cohen, noting it would likely add to the pile of evidence to suspend Frontex operations in Greece.

The letter also references a culture "of concealment and retaliation" at Frontex, which implicates Kalnaja, it says.

Cohen said they intend to challenge Frontex on a "failure to act '' in light of the evidence of pushbacks and other violations in Greece.

"Or otherwise under proceedings for annulment, which is going to be really unprecedented in EU law," he said.

The front-LEX letter was sent on Monday. The agency now has 60 days to respond.

"There has been no change in operational cooperation between the Greek authorities and Frontex," said a Frontex spokesperson, in an email, when asked to comment.

The agency has 473 standing corps officers, 20 vessels, 31 patrol cars and two aerial assets in Greece.

Copies of the letter were also sent to EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson and Kharim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Frontex had pulled out of Hungary in early 2021 following years of rights abuse and ignored warnings from its own fundamental rights officer.

The operations were suspended after Budapest ignored a European Court of Justice ruling for pushing people into Serbia, which is illegal under EU law.

This article was updated on Wednesday 8 June to incorporate a response from Frontex.

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