The European Commission cannot instruct the EU’s border agency Frontex and its executive director, Fabrice Leggeri.
The point was driven home repeatedly by EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson on Thursday (4 March).
“It is an independent body,” she told over a dozen MEPs probing the Warsaw-based agency.
Instead, Johansson said she has only political oversight.
“I am not in a position to give instructions or guidance to the agency or to the executive director,” she said.
“The management for the responsibility of Frontex is fully on the executive director and the management board,” she added.
The management board is composed by people working at national interior ministries, police and other law enforcement services.
The commission has two people sitting in.
Johansson noted the commission is also in no position to interpret EU law, a task she said, was the exclusive domain of the European Court of Justice.
The issue has confounded some MEPs – who say it creates an accountability gap over Frontex and Leggeri.
Among them is Spanish left-wing MEP Sira Rego.
“This confirms something that we have been pronouncing, that Leggeri has been doing as he wishes. There is no accountability,” she told reporters after the session.
Leggeri is under fire, amid calls by some of the main political groups to resign, following allegations of illegal pushbacks at sea between Greece and Turkey.
Frontex has between 600 and 800 staff, border and coast guard officers deployed in Greece.
The agency in Greece is tasked with border surveillance, border checks, security screening, debriefing of migrants and returns.
Leggeri has repeatedly denied any wrong-doing but the agency is also facing scrutiny from the EU’s anti-fraud agency, Olaf over issues related to harassment.
The European Ombudsman is also taking the agency to task in a separate case dealing with complaints.
Johansson was annoyed by Leggeri’s failure to recruit people tasked to oversee human rights.
The agency was required to have some 40 fundamental right monitors in place by last December.
So far none have been hired, a delay Leggeri blamed “on long discussions” dealing with legal matters.
But Johasson suggested questions over alleged pushbacks may be resolved – had they been in place as required.
“This has taken too long and this has not been good for the reputation and the trust for the agency,” she said of the hires.
Leggeri said at least 15 such officers will be recruited by April, and that others will follow once administrative hurdles on pay grades are sorted.
A higher-ranking fundamental rights officer is also set to be hired by the end of this month, he said.
He noted that some 300 newly-recruited border guards have been deployed.
They figure among the first of the 10,000 standing corps set to be hired over the next several years.
“There should have been 700,” countered Johansson.
She said the commission is launching, at the end of this year, an evaluation of rules underpinning the agency.
The commission also plans to evaluate the Frontex standing corps sometime in 2022, she noted.