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Decision on how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) dealt with a request for data concerning the resources deployed in two joint operations (case 1087/2022/SF)

Monday | 27 March 2023

The complainant sought access to detailed information on two of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s (Frontex) joint operations that it carried out in Greece and in Spain. In particular, the complainant asked for the number of Greek and Spanish co-financed assets and for a detailed breakdown per month and per profile of the assets and officers deployed.

Frontex refused to provide the requested detailed information arguing that it was sensitive operational information and that its disclosure could jeopardise Frontex’s future operational activities.

The complainant considered that this was a generic justification that Frontex often uses to refuse access to information and to documents. She further argued that the Commission had already disclosed some of the information requested.

The Ombudsman asked Frontex to set out, in line with the EU legislation on access to documents, why it considered that it could not disclose the requested data. The Ombudsman inquiry team also met with representatives of Frontex to receive more detailed explanations on how disclosure of the requested information could hamper Frontex’s ongoing and future operations.

Frontex argued that such a detailed breakdown of the assets and human resources deployed would allow criminal networks to draw a comprehensive picture on the strengths and/or weaknesses of Frontex’s deployments. As operational areas change only marginally, this type of information would enable such criminal networks to draw conclusions on Frontex’s operational focus in current and future operations.

The Ombudsman found that Frontex’s explanations were reasonable and supported by EU case-law. She thus closed the inquiry finding no maladministration.

Decision in OI/4/2021/MHZ on how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) complies with its fundamental rights obligations and ensures accountability in relation to its enhanced responsibilities

Monday | 18 July 2022

This own-initiative inquiry assessed how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is complying with its fundamental rights and transparency obligations under Regulation 2019/1896 (‘the Frontex Regulation’), which expanded Frontex’s mandate.

The inquiry looked into how Frontex ensures the transparency of its ‘operational plans’, which define the parameters of its operations, and how it decides to suspend, terminate or not launch an activity due to fundamental rights concerns. The inquiry also assessed the monitoring of fundamental rights compliance in forced returns and Frontex’s guidance for the screening process of undocumented individuals who cross or attempt to cross an external EU border irregularly.

Based on the inquiry, the Ombudsman set out a series of suggestions to Frontex, with a view to improving its accountability. The Ombudsman encourages Frontex to be proactively transparent in relation to operational plans and the fundamental rights analysis on which its Executive Director bases decisions to launch, suspend or terminate operations. She suggests that Frontex issue specific instructions to ‘screening teams’ that carry out interviews of refugees. The Ombudsman also encourages Frontex to improve the monitoring of forced returns in which those escorting returnees are Frontex staff and to guarantee better reporting of monitoring operations.