European Parliament and Commission divided on whether Frontex can be trusted
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European Parliament and Commission divided on whether Frontex can be trusted

Sea-Watch rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea, © Erik Marquardt (MEP and member of LIBE committee)

A new report by The Frontex Scrutiny Working Group concludes that the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has not lived up to its responsibility to safeguard human rights when protecting EU’s external borders.

The report was presented on Thursday at a meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). According to the report, the agency was aware of human rights violations such as illegal pushbacks were taking place in EU-countries with whom it cooperates but failed to respond or act to these allegations.

A hearing in December last year in the LIBE committee with the agency’s executive director resulted in a credibility gap between the agency and the committee. A recent report by the European Court of Auditors found that Frontex has not been sufficiently effective in helping member states in managing the EU’s external frontiers.

The auditors concluded that Frontex has not fully implemented the mandate it received in 2016 and auditors also cast doubt on its capacity to effectively implement the new operational role that has been assigned to it. The Commission, however, has expressed its full trust in the agency after it was cleared in an internal investigation.

Does the European Commission still have confidence in Frontex and its executive director?

The Brussels Times tried to reach out to Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs, for a comment but did not receive any reply from her and her cabinet. An informal Council meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers took place this week in Slovenia during its EUs Presidency.

The ministers discussed among others  issues relating to Frontex’ role, such as the Schengen strategy and the new pact on migration and asylum. At the following press conference, Johansson highlighted Frontex role in supporting Lithuania in protecting its border against Belarus’ attempt to “instrumentalise” illegal migration and exert pressure on EU member states.

“Frontex has failed in its duty to uphold the highest standards of human rights at the EU’s borders and needs drastic reorganisation,” commented MEP Tineke Strik (Greens/EFA) rapporteur of the Frontex Scrutiny Working Group report. “This investigation was essential to uncover clear shortcomings and wrong-doings at Frontex that urgently need to be fixed and is a vital first step in accountability.”

The Working Group is calling on the executive director of Frontex to immediately suspend operations in Hungary and evaluate operations in Greece. The group, however, has lost faith in the current executive director and urges the management board of Frontex and the Commission to reconsider his position.

This is not likely to happen in the near future. A Commission spokesperson said at today’s press conference (16 July) in Brussels that the Commission, while taking note of the report, is determined to work in close cooperation with Frontex because the agency is “fully complying with its mandate.” The spokesperson did not address the trust issue.

That said, the Commission promises to study the report’s findings carefully and to follow-up on the recommendations addressed to it. The Parliament will be kept informed.

Furthermore, it appears from the Spokesperson’s comment that procedures and operations at Frontex need to be improved. “We’ll continue to work with Frontex and its Management Board to ensure that there are appropriate checks and balances within the agency, to strengthen a culture of transparency, and ensure that fundamental rights are respected.”

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times