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23rd May 2022

EU commissioner risks court action over Frontex

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EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson may end up in court in Luxembourg over a fresh case dealing with the EU's border force Frontex.

The commissioner was on Thursday (24 March) sent a legal notice by front-LEX, a Dutch-based civil society organisation that advocates for refugees' and migrants' rights, demanding she table a proposal to get Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri fired.

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"She has 60 days to respond," Omer Shatz, who filed the legal notice along with fellow lawyer Iftach Cohen, told EUobserver.

The lawyers are basing the legal notice on a "failure to act" under article 265 of the EU treaty. Drafted as a 13-page letter, the notice outlines legal arguments for Johansson to issue a proposal that seeks Leggeri's dismissal.

Any such proposal would need to be tabled to the Frontex management board, itself tasked "to exercise oversight over the agency." The board is composed of national police and interior ministry officials, plus two representatives from the European Commission.

It is unclear if the board would agree to fire Leggeri. But Shatz says Johansson is duty bound to at least table it. Asked for a comment, the European Commission has yet to respond.

Should she fail to respond to the legal notice, she will be challenged at the general court in Luxembourg, said Shatz.

Olaf investigation — who is in trouble?

The court threat against Johansson follows a year-long investigation into Frontex by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf.

Although the Olaf report itself is kept secret, two sources with knowledge of the investigation say the probe names executive-director Fabrice Leggeri and his former head of cabinet, Thibauld de la Haye Jousselin.

EUobserver is withholding a third name cited in the probe as questions remain over his role.

But each was asked to provide a comment prior to the publication of this article. Frontex however declined, saying it had to respect the "confidentiality of the investigations."

Olaf is set to issue possibly two more reports on the agency in the coming months with at least one likely dealing with harassment. This may cast a shadow over Thibauld de la Haye Jousselin, if indeed he has been accused of wrongdoing by Olaf.

Jousselin has since been reassigned a director role at the agency's human resources and legal affairs division, known as the Governance Support Centre. Harassment typically falls under the scope of human resources.

But the Centre also processes access to document requests, posing further questions given the agency has been accused of being involved in illegal push-backs of refugees and prospective asylum seekers.

MEPs' access

European lawmakers do not have access to the Olaf report. Instead, Olaf gave them an oral presentation summary of its investigation in early March.

Those talks were not made public but Spiegel International, a German publication, reported that Olaf during its presentation had accused three senior Frontex officials of breaching EU laws and had recommended disciplinary action.

Spiegel, along with other media outlets led by LightHouse Reports, had also in 2020 documented illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea. Some of those implicated Frontex, which has consistently denied any wrong-doing.

The agency's management board is next week set to discuss possible fall-out from Olaf's initial investigation.

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