No cash for Frontex over rule of law violations

MEPs vote to withhold discharge of EU border control agency accounts over rule of law violations

The accounts for the EU’s border guard agency Frontex were not discharged because MEPs are still unsatisfied by the agency’s failure to meet conditions set out in a previous discharge and OLAF findings on misconduct.

The EP’s Budgetary Control Committee recommended clearing most of the EU accounts for 2020, but postponed the decision on the European Border and Coast guard Agency, over Frontex’s failure to fulfill conditions set out in Parliament’s previous discharge report, as well as findings by the EU’s Anti-Fraud watchdog regarding harassment, misconduct and migrant pushbacks involving the Agency.

Reported violations in Greece were not addressed and the operations in Hungary were continued regardless of the ruling by the Court of Justice that refugee return operations in Hungary in 2020 were incompatible with EU law.

The rapporteur for the 2020 Commission discharge report Oliver Chastel (Renew) said: “Audit systems must be digitised, a database of the beneficiaries of all EU funds from all programmes is needed, use of data mining programmes should be mandatory, respect for the Rule of Law, an assessment of the impact of our policies and budgetary support, a reduction of outstanding commitments and an increase in the member states’ absorption capacity.”

Chastel stressed that with the crises the EU was facing, “the European budget must be managed efficiently and effectively, in order to meet the needs of Member States and citizens, combat fraud and corruption, and respond to emergency situations and promote long-term European growth.”

With 18 votes in favour, 12 against and no abstentions, the Committee approved the expenditure for the first year of COVID-19 to the Commission, which manages the majority of the EU’s general expenditure, totalling €173.3 billion in 2020.

MEPs noted that €12.9 billion in commitments under direct and indirect management and €34.2 billion in commitments under shared management had been provided for purposes related to the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020.

Due to the exceptional and urgent circumstances, rules for disbursing EU funds to member states were relaxed to provide liquidity and flexibility to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. This increased the risk of non-transparent procedures, misuse and fraud, such as the already-recorded criminal activities affecting the supply of some health and safety equipment and fake vaccine offers.

They ask for risk audits and a scoreboard for measuring the efficiency of spending of the Recovery and Resilience facility funds to be introduced to ensure that these funds are not subject to similar misuse.

MEPs urged the use of the rule of law conditionality regulation to end the “ongoing severe violations of the rule of law” that cause losses to the EU budget .

Finally, the MEPs repeated their call for a mandatory single interoperable reporting and monitoring system on beneficiaries of funds from all EU programmes to be introduced, to prevent misuse of funds, fraud, conflicts of interest, double-funding and other systemic problems.

Earlier this year, the Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee recommended postponing the signing off on the 2020 accounts for the European Court of Auditors, Council and the European Economic and Social Committee and recommended granting the discharge for 2020 accounts to 15 other EU bodies.

All discharge decisions made by the Committee need to be backed by the full Parliament, with a vote scheduled for the upcoming May session.

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