David McAllister: The European Border and Coast Guard Agency
The European border and coast guard agency FRONTEX has a crucial role to protect our external borders. This agency is at the very core of the EU justice and home affairs strategy. The EPP Group has always very much supported FRONTEX and advocated an effective management of the EU’s external borders. FRONTEX is growing rapidly, in both budget, human resources and competences, with a standing corps of 10.000 border guards currently being put in place.
With its greater role comes a need for greater accountability. At this time, the agency should be strengthened, not weakened. In order to do this, adequate answers to recent allegations of fundamental rights violations must be found. To ensure adequate parliamentary oversight of the European border and coast guard agency, the EPP Group pushed for the creation of a standing FRONTEX Scrutiny Working Group that will monitor all aspects of the functioning of the agency. The EPP Group will continue to hold FRONTEX to account in order to make sure that external border protection remains as robust, as efficient and as transparent in its operations as possible.
Reports allege that FRONTEX has been involved in so-called “push-backs” of seaborne potential asylum seekers in Aegean waters. These are incidents where refugees or asylum seekers are not allowed entry at external borders. Such acts are illegal since, under the Geneva Convention, people have a right to seek asylum in a country other than their own, including EU Member States.
According to FRONTEX the situation in the eastern Aegean has been complicated for the ships deployed by FRONTEX because of a disagreement between Greece and Turkey over their maritime borders. FRONTEX remains committed to supporting Greece at its external borders in line with its mandate and in the spirit of EU solidarity, in full respect of fundamental rights and international law.
FRONTEX is also facing allegations of harassment and misconduct. These are under investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog OLAF. In a statement, the agency announced that it is cooperating fully with OLAF.
FRONTEX is accountable to the European Parliament and the Council under Article 6 of the European Border and Coast Guard Regulation. This means that the agency reports on its activities to the European Parliament and the Council and that both Institutions are actively involved in FRONTEX’s work, exercising supervision. FRONTEX is also accountable to national border guard authorities sitting on its Management Board.
The media report that the internal investigation presented to the FRONTEX Management Board on 5 March 2021 did not find evidence that the fundamental rights of migrants in the 14 cases investigated were violated. The report also presented new recommendations to improve the functioning of FRONTEX.
The 14-member EP standing Scrutiny Working Group held its first meeting on 3 March 2021 with FRONTEX’s Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri and Commissioner Ylva Johansson.
The EU cannot ever tolerate illegal actions by its agencies, if proven. Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson has already suggested the creation of a pushback monitoring mechanism. The EPP Group would look on such a proposal favourably. However, details need to be further developed and examined. It is also important that we have confidence in our border guards, which have the vital job of securing our external borders, in full respect of fundamental rights. External border protection enables us to enjoy freedom of movement within the EU.