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Parliament committee asks for part of Frontex budget to be frozen

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The Budget Control Committee recommended signing off on the expenses of the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency, but asked for part of the budget to be frozen, CONT  LIBE.

MEPs on the committee recommended granting so-called discharge to Frontex for management of its 2019 budget, yet to be approved by the full House.

While recognising that Frontex has taken steps to remedy the shortcomings identified in the first EP discharge report in spring this year, and with reference to the conclusions of the EP Frontex Scrutiny Working Group, MEPs still highlight outstanding issues. There are unresolved issues in recruitment and financial management, as well as in its operations in fighting illegal immigration and cross-border crime, and MEPs ask for further improvements.

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For this reason, MEPs in the report, finally adopted by 27 votes to 2 against and 1 abstention, ask for part of the Frontex 2022 budget to be frozen, to make it available only once the agency has fulfilled a number of specific conditions. These include recruiting 20 missing fundamental rights monitors and three deputy executive directors who are sufficiently qualified to fill these positions, setting up a mechanism for reporting serious incidents on the EU’s external borders and a functioning fundamental rights monitoring system.

Council discharge

By 28 votes, 1 against and 1 abstention, Budgetary Control Committee MEPs also recommended that discharge for the year 2019 should not be granted to the European Council and Council. In their remarks, MEPs regret that the Council “continues to be silent” and does not cooperate with the Parliament by providing the necessary information as requested.

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The Parliament has been issuing negative decisions regarding Council’s discharge for each consecutive year since 2009.

Next steps

The Budgets Committee will vote on Tuesday on its position on the 2022 EU budget. One of the compromise amendments sets the amount of next year’s Frontex budget to be put in reserve at €90,000,000, which constitutes around 12% of Frontex’s proposed draft budget for 2022 (€757,793,708).

It will be voted on by the full House during Parliament’s 18-21 October session, before the negotiations with the Council, with the aim of reaching an agreement on next year’s EU budget by 15 November. The decision on whether to grant discharge to Frontex may also be put to the vote during the same plenary session.

Background

In April 2021, Parliament postponed the discharge decision for Frontex, asking for additional clarifications and correction measures as to how the agency exercises its operations and manages its finances, recruitment and procurement procedures.

Further information 

Europol

Frontex cracks down on smuggling at EU's north-eastern border

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Within just 10 days, law enforcement and customs officers from seven countries, EU agencies and international organisations managed to disrupt a number of criminal activities at the EU’s north-eastern land border in operation Joint Action Day Arktos led by Lithuania, Poland and Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

The operation, which took place in June, focused on detecting excise goods smuggling via EU external borders, targeting tobacco smuggling. The officers also detected more than 400 innovative tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes and e-liquids.

Among the seized illegal goods were 6.7 million illegal cigarettes and 2.6 tonnes of raw tobacco, along with half-a-tonne of illegal drugs.

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15 smugglers were arrested, and more than 200 forged documents detected.

The experts from the Frontex Centre for Combatting Document Fraud were on call to help law enforcement officers from participant countries determine whether a document they held in their hands during border checks was fraudulent.

The eastern land border remains a popular route for criminal networks to smuggle excise goods into the European Union. The most common way criminals try to smuggle cigarettes into the Schengen Area is by train, although this year one inventive swimmer crossed a lake that forms the border between Russia and Estonia, dragging along more than a dozen bags full of cigarette packs, assisted by a small electric engine.

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Participants

Member states: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Slovakia

Organizations: Europol, Eurojust, OLAF, Interpol

The operation was coordinated under the umbrella of the European Multidisciplinary Platform against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), a four-year plan for the fight against serious and organized crime. It brings together law enforcement of EU Member States, European agencies and international organisations to jointly strengthen Europe’s borders and internal security. The results and intelligence gathered will help in ongoing and future investigations.

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Ombudsman makes suggestions to improve accountability of Frontex's work

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The Ombudsman has made a series of suggestions to Frontex to improve the accountability of its operations and to ensure that people know there is a complaints mechanism they can use if their fundamental rights have been breached.

The suggestions follow a six-month own initiative inquiry assessing how Frontex has implemented new rules - in force since November 2019 - on its complaints mechanism and the Fundamental Rights Officer.

The inquiry showed that the complaints mechanism dealt with a very low number of complaints (22 admissible complaints by January 2021) since it was established in 2016 and none of them concerned the actions of Frontex staff members.

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The Ombudsman considered that the low number of complaints could be due to factors such as lack of awareness, fear of negative repercussions or lack of engagement by deployed Frontex officers who could play a more active role in transmitting complaints.

The inquiry also documents the delays in implementing changes introduce in 2019, including the appointment of 40 fundamental rights monitors, as well as poor cooperation between the Fundamental Rights Officer and national authorities. 

The Ombudsman noted that when it comes to reports about serious incidences (these have a separate more complex procedure) the role of the Fundamental Rights Officer is less prominent than when it is dealing with complaints lodged with the complaints mechanism.

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The Ombudsman found that the Executive Director should act on recommendations by the Fundamental Rights Officer, and noted that decisions by the Executive Director on complaints forwarded by the Fundamental Rights Officer may be challenged before the European Ombudsman.

To introduce more accountability and transparency, the Ombudsman proposed that Frontex make it clear to its officers that they should accept and transmit any complaints they receive, and that Frontex’s information materials say that complainants will not be penalised for submitting a complaint.

The Ombudsman also asked Frontex to consider accepting anonymous complaints, and to revise its rules to set out clear and unambiguous steps for dealing with complaints about violations concerning the rules on the use of force.

Frontex has also been asked to improve the information it makes available to the public including publishing all of the Fundamental Rights Officer’s annual reports, which in future should include a section on the concrete actions taken by Frontex and member states in reaction to recommendations by the Fundamental Rights Officer.

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Crime

1,600 offences detected in a global operation against marine pollution

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Between 1 and 30 March 2021, 300 agencies across 67 countries joined forces against marine pollution during the third global operation 30 Days at Sea. Europol and Frontex co-ordinated the European leg of the operation, as part of the EMPACT action plan on environmental crime, while INTERPOL co-ordinated the global activities. The actions led to the identification of numerous crimes ranging from illegal discharge to waste trafficking and the investigation of thousands of suspects worldwide.   

Frontline action followed five months of intelligence collection and analysis, enabling participating countries to identify hotspots and targets.

The simultaneous actions in March led to:

  • 34,000 inspections at sea and inland waterways, coastal areas and ports; 
  • 1,600 marine pollution offences detected in total;
  • 500 illegal acts of pollution committed at sea, including oil discharges, illegal shipbreaking and sulphur emissions from vessels;
  • 1,000 pollution offences in coastal areas and in rivers, including illegal discharges of contaminants;
  • 130 cases of waste trafficking through ports.

By using INTERPOL’s wide range of databases and analytical capabilities, countries were able to connect pollution crime with other serious crimes such as fraud, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, piracy, and illegal fishing. 

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Criminals attempt to abuse the pandemic also at sea

With many enforcement resources being reassigned to tackle the pandemic, criminals have been quick to exploit growing vulnerabilities in different crime areas including environmental crime. Inspections uncovered typical forms of marine pollution crime, from vessel discharges to waste trafficking by sea, but also criminal trends that have been growing amid the pandemic. Growing trends included COVID-19 disposable items such as masks and gloves, with 13 cases involving medical waste opened as a result of the operation. 

A major criminal network trafficking plastic waste between Europe and Asia was exposed, triggering cooperation between authorities from both regions. So far, 22 suspects have been arrested and thousands of tonnes of waste have been prevented from being illegally shipped to Asia. It is highly likely that the waste would have likely been dumped there, contaminating soils and generating considerable marine litter.

Several countries from Europe, Asia and Africa reported illegal shipments of contaminated or mixed metal waste falsely declared as metal scraps. In one case, the Italian Coast Guard seized and prevented 11 000 tonnes of metal scraps mixed with plastic, rubber, mineral oil and other contaminants from being loaded onto bulk carriers headed for Turkey. Namibia, the Philippines and Croatia also reported cases of illegal waste shipments from Europe.

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Global coordination to counter the pollution of our seas

Europol and FRONTEX (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) coordinated the European leg of 30 Days at Sea 3.0, while INTERPOL’s Environmental Security Programme coordinating the operation globally. 

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said: “Marine pollution is a serious threat, which endangers not only the environment but our health and in the long run our global economy. Criminals do not care about the environment; they do not think of tomorrow, but only of increasing their profits on the back of our society. Consolidated law enforcement efforts such as the operation 30 Days at Sea are critical to tackle these borderless crimes and protect our environmental heritage for generations to come.”

INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “The threat of pollution crime is constantly evolving, endangering the air we breathe, our water and soil. Although this is the third edition of 30 Days at Sea, it is never the same exercise. 
 

It is thanks to a global yet agile network that we have seen the number of inspections more than double since the first edition: a clear sign that the international community will not stand for criminal attacks on our environment.”

“Environmental crime is one of many criminal activities Frontex targets as part of our mission as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. This is our contribution to the protection of the environment. I’m proud that, as part of 30 Days at Sea, Frontex aerial and maritime assets monitored nearly 1 000 vessels,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.

All three editions of Operation 30 Days at Sea 3.0 have been carried out with funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

*Participating countries:

17 EU Member States: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden

50 non-EU countries: Angola, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chilie, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Dem Rep Congo, Ecuador Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Maldives, Namibia, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Zimbabwe Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, we support the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised forms of crime. We also work with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.

EMPACT

In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organized crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU member states, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Environmental crime is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.

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