Why Frontex needs a reset
... and why Parliament should make it happen
Last week, Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri resigned. His years in office were marred by controversy and question marks over the way he ran the agency. The reason for his - reluctant - resignation is most likely a damning report by OLAF about the role of Frontex in alleged systematic pushbacks of migrants. Further OLAF reports on mismanagement and harassment are probably in the pipeline. We cannot be sure what is in the reports, as the Management Board of Frontex has so far refused access. But Mr Leggeri would not have resigned unless the conclusions were very severe. He jumped before he was pushed.
The Management Board was quick to point out that the OLAF report does not indicate any structural problems at Frontex, and that the difficulties were due to individual misbehaviour. We cannot verify whether that is accurate or false because of the aforementioned secrecy. What we do know however, is that the Management Board for years has systematically ignored all warning signs and calls for action by the European Parliament and others. The Management Board is made up mainly of member state representatives, many of whom have no interest in close scrutiny of Frontex, as it would expose their own dubious role in the pushbacks. Others shielded Leggeri for many years for reasons of political expediency.
The Management Board last week also elected Mr Alexander Fritsch as its new Chair. Frontex will be led by an acting Executive Director, until the successor of Leggeri has been appointed. The new line up offers an opportunity for change. However, even under the new leadership, the Management Board refuses to give Parliament access to all the relevant information, even in a secure reading room and bound by confidentiality, nor does it allow for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. That does not bode well.
Therefore I propose that the European Parliament make full use of its elective powers, to secure a constructive and meaningful cooperation agreement - in writing - with the Frontex Management Board prior to the appointment of the new Executive Director. Indeed as a pre-condition for the appointment. The EBCG Regulation foresees that the European Parliament hears all three candidates proposed by the European Commission, and makes a recommendation. The Management Board should take account of the recommendation, or justify when it deviates. In my view, Parliament should not proceed with the hearings and the recommendation, before detailed written working arrangements have been agreed with the Management Board. The agreement should cover issues like transparency, conditions for information sharing and parliamentary scrutiny, and the follow up to calls from the European Parliament.
There is a real opportunity for a fresh start. But we should draw lessons from the past. Changing personalities is necessary, but not enough. We must change the working arrangements and enhance accountability.
In these times more than ever, Frontex is literally in the front line and it has to perform seemlessly. We cannot afford the dark cloud hanging over the agency anymore. Parliament has to take responsibility and show leadership now.