With the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri (pictured) as director-general of Frontex, the European agency tasked with guarding the EU's borders, Frontex officially becomes a tourism agency for migrants, not an agency to protect Europe's borders. (Photo by Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images)
The pro-migrants lobby inside the European Union has won: Fabrice Leggeri, director-general of Frontex, the European agency tasked with guarding the EU's borders, was forced to send a letter of resignation on April 28, 2022. His resignation was accepted by the board.
Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, was created in 2004 to help EU member states and countries associated with the Schengen area -- countries allowing passport-free movement between them -- to protect the EU's external borders.
In 2021, Frontex had a budget of 544 million euros (half a billion dollars) and employed 1,000 European officials. By 2027, their number (coast guards and border guards) will increase tenfold. There are also plans that the European coast guards will be armed.
Importantly, Frontex is not under the direct supervision of the European Commission. The head of Frontex reports to a board of directors, composed of the ministers of the interior of Europe's 27 member states. However, the European Commission does have two representatives on the Frontex board.
The relative institutional independence of Frontex explains the nature of the means used to obtain the departure of a director general: his actions were perceived as hostile to the commission's open borders policy.
Fabrice Leggeri, appointed in 2015 and reappointed in 2019, has, for the past two years, been the target of multiple, relentless attacks. The Swedish Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson (Social Democrat), numerous pro-migrant NGOs (Sea Watch, Front-Lex and Progress Lawyers Network, Greek Helsinki Monitor...), members of the European Parliament -- all have accused Frontex and Leggeri of turning the European Union into a "fortress" and of undermining the human rights of migrants.
The intensity of the political conflicts surrounding the migration issues in Europe needs to be understood, as well as its link to the Second World War. Europeans have never recovered from having closed their borders to Jewish refugees persecuted by the Nazis. The European Union has therefore made it its duty to watch over the rights of "refugees" from all over the world; it does not matter if these "refugees" are actual refugees fleeing from persecution, or simply economic migrants looking for a more prosperous life. That European guilt is, unsurprisingly, often being exploited today by various political, economic and media lobbies. Defenders of multinationals corporations see mass immigration as a way to lower labor costs; self-declared "progressives", numerous in the media, defend a compulsory multiculturalist model that considers any criticism of immigration an apology for racism.
It was a report by the German television channel ARD, filmed with a hidden camera, that set off this latest powder keg. In October 2021, journalists from ARD channel filmed a "push back", the heavy-handed methods used by Greek border guards to turn back migrants, as well as the use of dogs to track them. Above all, media outlets -- the British Guardian and the German ARD -- criticized the way that Frontex had reportedly turned a blind eye to those abuses.
It was this passivity of Frontex agents that led to an investigation by OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office), the European Union's internal investigation service. The report drawn up by OLAF in February 2022 -- 129 pages and 700 pages of appendices – mauled Leggeri. Three grievances were established against him: non-compliance with procedures, disloyalty to the European Union and poor staff management. A proposal to open disciplinary proceedings against him, however, was overwhelmingly rejected by 22 votes against, 5 in favor and one abstention.
The three grievances against Leggeri boil down to one: Frontex would have helped some EU member states to "push back" flows of migrants outside their borders. It is not that Leggeri adopted personal anti-migrant attitudes. In fact, his enemies refused to take into consideration that in certain instances, the migrants were instrumentalized by powers antagonistic to Europe, such as Turkey or Belarus.
In February-March 2020, for instance, Turkey pushed several thousand illegal migrants on Greece, a hostile gesture that even German Chancellor Angela Merkel considered "unacceptable." "No one can blackmail the EU," the European Commissioner for Migration Margaritis Schinas chimed in as well.
A year later, in November 2021, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, in revenge for Western sanctions, imported migrants from the Middle East and launched them against the borders of Poland and Lithuania.
OLAF investigators, sadly, did not take into account the political aspect of these migration flows and accused Leggeri of betraying his mission of "monitoring" Europe's member states.
This accusation is at the heart of the conflict in the European Union: should EU member states keep their borders open at all times? And is it Frontex's job to ensure that the borders of EU member states remain always open?
The OLAF report criticizes Leggeri for having dragged his feet in recruiting "twenty fundamental rights monitors" -- political commissioners in charge of ensuring respect for migrants' rights -- and for having dragged his feet in creating a "fundamental rights" monitoring system.
Whenever the European Union talks about "fundamental rights", it is the right of migrants to move freely that is being discussed. Never the rights of the host populations. In this context, a "pushback" is perceived as a capital crime.
These "monitors" in charge of fundamental rights do not report to the director general, so Frontex alone illustrates the European Union dilemma: to welcome refugees and turn back illegal migrants looking for economic opportunity, or to welcome all migrants for fear of turning back genuine refugees?
In his resignation letter, Leggeri wrote, "It seems that the mandate of Frontex on which I was elected and renewed in June 2019 has silently but effectively been modified." It was a way of saying that the mission of Frontex is no longer the protection of borders but only the protection of the right of migrants to settle wherever they want. This view was confirmed by the Dutch MEP Tineke Strik, leader of the European Parliament's working group on Frontex. In a mocking tweet, Strik explained that Frontex has never changed. The reality, she said, is that Leggeri "has never understood that Frontex must protect fundamental rights in all its actions". She added: "The next director must make this a top priority."
With the departure of Leggeri, Frontex officially becomes a tourism agency for migrants, not an agency to protect Europe's borders.
Yves Mamou, author and journalist, based in France, worked for two decades as a journalist for Le Monde.