EU lawmakers reject border agency budget over misconduct

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union lawmakers refused on Tuesday to endorse the way the EU’s border and coast guard agency used its 2020 budget, over concerns about serious misconduct by staff and human rights concerns involving Frontex’s work.

Frontex supervises the 27-nation EU’s outside borders. The agency is under pressure over allegations that it was involved in the illegal pushbacks of migrants, notably in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Its executive director resigned earlier this year after an anti-fraud office probe.

During a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, the lawmakers voted by 345 votes to 284, with 8 abstentions, not to sign off on Frontex’s 2020 accounts.

“With a budget of 900 million euros ($884 million) in 2022, Frontex is the most well-funded European agency. We can no longer tolerate public money being used to violate European legislation and international law,” Dutch Greens lawmaker Bas Eickhout said after the vote.

The move has no direct legal consequences, but it does oblige the EU’s institutions — notably the European Commission — to take measures to address the parliament’s concerns. In similar circumstances in 1999, the entire commission resigned amid corruption allegations.

Several EU members of parliament have expressed concern about the suspected suicide of a Frontex staff member apparently linked to allegations of sexual harassment.

A report by the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, examined Frontex activities in Greece from spring to autumn 2020 and found that the agency wasn’t investigating or handling evidence of migrant pushbacks correctly and at times was attempting to cover them up or not reporting them at all.

Pushbacks — the forcible return of people across an international border, on land or at sea, without an assessment of their rights to apply for asylum or other forms of protection — violate both international and EU law.

Greek authorities have long been accused by human rights lawyers, non-governmental organizations, media investigations and other entities of conducting violent and deadly pushbacks of migrants and refugees crossing its borders from Turkey.

Frontex has sought to put the allegations behind it. “The Agency takes the findings of investigations, audits and other forms of scrutiny seriously and uses them as opportunities to make changes for the better,” Frontex said Friday in a statement to The Associated Press.

While acknowledging the findings of “serious misbehavior” committed by three Frontex employees, the agency’s management said that it has taken “remedial measures” to address the issues, mainly procedural changes within the agency.

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