23rd Mar 2023

'Slap in the face': European Parliament refuses to endorse Frontex budget

  • Frontex's leadership helped cover up rights violations, including pushbacks in Greece, says an Olaf report (Photo: Christopher Jahn/IFRC)
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The European Parliament refused to endorse the EU's border police Frontex, following numerous reports of abuse under its previous leadership.

The vote in Strasbourg on Tuesday (18 October) hones in on the Warsaw-based agency's budget in 2020 in a procedure known as a discharge.

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MEPs voted against granting discharge, sending a political signal that they are unhappy about how the agency uses public money to patrol the EU's external borders and that it needs to implement further face saving reforms.

The year 2020 saw the agency's annual budget continue its climb towards around €750m at a time when it was headed by Fabrice Leggeri.

It was also the year when Greece temporarily suspended asylum for a month after thousands of people sought to cross from Turkey. Reports soon emerged of Greek security and authorities illegally forcing people back to Turkey.

Greece has denied any wrongdoing and often framed the reports as 'fake news' or Turkish propaganda.

Leggeri, who resigned in April, had himself come under scrutiny in an investigation by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, given the agency's role and support for Greece during the 2020 standoff with Turkey.

The probe intensified amid reports by several media outlets that the agency was hiding rights violations and that it was implicated in illegal pushbacks off the Greek islands.

The 123-page Olaf confidential report was itself leaked last week and offered additional evidence.

It showcased how Leggeri and two other senior Frontex staff had muzzled their own Fundamental Rights Officer, who was tasked to ensure the rule of law was being properly applied.

"These were practices of the past," said the agency, in a response made last week, to the violations cited in the Olaf report.

It had also said that the agency and its management board agreed to take a number of remedial measures to address the shortcomings.

But Tuesday's vote appears not to have convinced some of the 345 MEPs who voted against granting Frontex discharge.

"This is a real slap in the face for the agency and its management," said Belgian Green MEP Saskia Bricmont, in an emailed statement.

"The agency must be radically reorganised. In terms of joint operations, Frontex should only cooperate with countries that act in full respect of fundamental rights," she said.

The other 284 MEPs who backed the agency, including the centre-right EPP, said it should have been granted discharge.

"Refusing to discharge is a political statement. Let me rephrase that. It's a political game," said Dutch EPP MEP, Jeroen Lenaers.

Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for home affairs, also came to the agency's defence.

On Monday evening at a Strasbourg debate, she said it was undergoing reforms and that a new executive-director is set to be appointed before the end of the year.

"They have appointed a new fundamental rights officers, the fundamental rights monitors are in place," she said.

But the agency and its interim director Aija Kalnaja is already facing a lawsuit for refusing to pull its operations from Greece.

The lawsuit was lodged last week by front-Lex, a Dutch-based civil society organisation.

The agency remains in Greece, where over the weekend 92 migrants were found naked, some with visible injuries, on Greece's land border with Turkey.

The UN agency for refugees has since demanded an investigation, which is currently being conducted by Greek authorities with Frontex officials.

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