MEPs clinch agreement to suspend Frontex operations that breach human rights

Rapporteur Simon Busuttil says this is “the Frontex Europe needs”

MEPs and the EU Council have agreed on a series of changes to the current mandate of Frontex, the EU’s external border agency set up in 2004.

Frontex will designate a fundamental rights officer and establish a consultative forum on fundamental rights. The Executive Director of Frontex will suspend or terminate, in whole or in part, an operation if he identifies any violation of the rule of law or fundamental rights of a serious nature or likely to persist.

Frontex will also develop codes of conduct to guarantee compliance with fundamental rights and the rule of law in all operations, including return operations. Under international law, no person may be disembarked or handed over to the authorities of a country where his/her life or freedoms could be threatened. The agency will respect this 'principle of non-refoulement' in all circumstances, says the agreed text.

Earlier in the month, the majority of delegations in the Council of the EU had rejected calls by the EP to suspend joint operations, rapid border intervention missions and pilot projects where fundamental rights or international protection obligations have been violated.

Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil, rapporteur on the Frontex dossier, welcomed the agreement reached yesterday evening between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on the revised Frontex Regulation. “Finally, we are on track to making the agency more effective,” Busuttil said at the end of a marathon negotiating process that took six trilogue meetings involving the Council, the Commission and Parliament. “This is the Frontex that Europe needs in the coming years and we hope that it will now deliver better.”

The next steps are for the agreement to be voted in the LIBE Committee on 12 July and in plenary in September. If adopted, the whole European Parliament would vote it in the Strasbourg plenary session from 12 to 15 September.

Under the new rules, Member States will be obliged to contribute with staff and equipment to Frontex operations. The agency will focus its activities on EU countries facing specific and disproportionate migratory pressures.

To reinforce the democratic scrutiny of Frontex, the agency will report to the European Parliament on its activities regarding fundamental rights on a regular basis. EP will also be regularly updated on Member States’ contributions to Frontex operations and on agreements with third countries and other agencies.

Frontex will only process personal data when strictly necessary; the agreement introduces a series of limitations regarding the type of personal data processed. The term of storage of those data will not exceed in any case three months after the date of collection and transmission to Europol or other EU agencies will be done on a case-by-case basis. Sending the data to third countries will be prohibited.

This is bad news for Malta. Frontex will continue being a ferry service for illegal immigrants wanting to be transported from Libya and Tunisia to the coasts of southern Europe.