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Procedure : 2021/2146(DEC)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A9-0110/2022

Texts tabled :

A9-0110/2022

Debates :

PV 04/05/2022 - 6
CRE 04/05/2022 - 6

Votes :

PV 04/05/2022 - 8.31
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P9_TA(2022)0171

Texts adopted
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Wednesday, 4 May 2022 - Strasbourg
Discharge 2020: European Border and Coast Guard Agency
P9_TA(2022)0171A9-0110/2022
Decision
 Decision
 Resolution

1. European Parliament decision of 4 May 2022 on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for the financial year 2020 (2021/2146(DEC))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the final annual accounts of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for the financial year 2020,

–  having regard to the Court of Auditors’ annual report on EU agencies for the financial year 2020, together with the agencies' replies(1),

–  having regard to the statement of assurance(2) as to the reliability of the accounts and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions provided by the Court of Auditors for the financial year 2020, pursuant to Article 287 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the Council’s recommendation of 28 February 2022 on discharge to be given to the Agency in respect of the implementation of the budget for the financial year 2020 (06003/2022 – C9‑0101/2022),

–  having regard to Article 319 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 July 2018 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union, amending Regulations (EU) No 1296/2013, (EU) No 1301/2013, (EU) No 1303/2013, (EU) No 1304/2013, (EU) No 1309/2013, (EU) No 1316/2013, (EU) No 223/2014, (EU) No 283/2014, and Decision No 541/2014/EU and repealing Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012(3), and in particular Article 70 thereof,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 November 2019 on the European Border and Coast Guard and repealing Regulations (EU) No 1052/2013 and (EU) 2016/1624(4), and in particular Article 116 thereof,

–  having regard to Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/715 of 18 December 2018 on the framework financial regulation for the bodies set up under the TFEU and Euratom Treaty and referred to in Article 70 of Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046 of the European Parliament and of the Council(5), and in particular Article 105 thereof,

–  having regard to Rule 100 of and Annex V to its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control (A9-0110/2022),

1.  Postpones its decision on granting the Executive Director of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the Agency for the financial year 2020;

2.  Sets out its observations in the resolution below;

3.  Instructs its President to forward this decision, and the resolution forming an integral part of it, to the Executive Director of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the Council, the Commission and the Court of Auditors, and to arrange for their publication in the Official Journal of the European Union (L series).

(1) OJ C 439, 29.10.2021, p. 3.
(2) OJ C 439, 29.10.2021, p. 3.
(3) OJ L 193, 30.7.2018, p. 1.
(4) OJ L 295, 14.11.2019, p. 1.
(5) OJ L 122, 10.5.2019, p. 1.


2. European Parliament decision of 4 May 2022 on the closure of the accounts of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for the financial year 2020 (2021/2146(DEC))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the final annual accounts of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for the financial year 2020,

–  having regard to the Court of Auditors’ annual report on EU agencies for the financial year 2020, together with the agencies' replies(1),

–  having regard to the statement of assurance(2) as to the reliability of the accounts and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions provided by the Court of Auditors for the financial year 2020, pursuant to Article 287 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the Council’s recommendation of 28 February 2022 on discharge to be given to the Agency in respect of the implementation of the budget for the financial year 2020 (06003/2022 – C9‑0101/2022),

–  having regard to Article 319 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 July 2018 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union, amending Regulations (EU) No 1296/2013, (EU) No 1301/2013, (EU) No 1303/2013, (EU) No 1304/2013, (EU) No 1309/2013, (EU) No 1316/2013, (EU) No 223/2014, (EU) No 283/2014, and Decision No 541/2014/EU and repealing Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012(3), and in particular Article 70 thereof,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 November 2019 on the European Border and Coast Guard and repealing Regulations (EU) No 1052/2013 and (EU) 2016/1624(4), and in particular Article 116 thereof,

–  having regard to Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/715 of 18 December 2018 on the framework financial regulation for the bodies set up under the TFEU and Euratom Treaty and referred to in Article 70 of Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046 of the European Parliament and of the Council(5), and in particular Article 105 thereof,

–  having regard to Rule 100 of and Annex V to its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control (A9-0110/2022),

1.  Postpones the closure of the accounts of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for the financial year 2020;

2.  Instructs its President to forward this decision to the Executive Director of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the Council, the Commission and the Court of Auditors, and to arrange for its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union (L series).

(1) OJ C 439, 29.10.2021, p. 3.
(2) OJ C 439, 29.10.2021, p. 3.
(3) OJ L 193, 30.7.2018, p. 1.
(4) OJ L 295, 14.11.2019, p. 1.
(5) OJ L 122, 10.5.2019, p. 1.


3. European Parliament resolution of 4 May 2022 with observations forming an integral part of the decision on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for the financial year 2020 (2021/2146(DEC))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its decision on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for the financial year 2020,

–  having regard to Rule 100 of and Annex V to its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control (A9-0110/2022),

A.  whereas, according to its statement of revenue and expenditure(1), the final budget of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (the ‘Agency’) for the financial year 2020 was EUR 364 432 655, representing an increase of 10,40 % compared to 2019; whereas the Agency’s budget derives mainly from the Union budget;

B.  whereas all Union bodies, offices and agencies ought to be transparent and fully accountable to the citizens of the Union for the funds entrusted to them;

C.  whereas Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 stipulates the requirements with which the Agency should comply, including in areas such as the respect for fundamental rights;

D.  whereas the Court of Auditors (the ‘Court’), in its report on the annual accounts of the Agency for the financial year 2020 (the ‘Court's report’), states that it has obtained reasonable assurance that the Agency’s annual accounts are reliable and that the underlying transactions are legal and regular;

E.  whereas since December 2019 the Agency has been implementing a new mandate with an essential scale-up that is significant in terms of missions and staff, that requires an adequate budget;

F.  whereas the Court in its Special Report No 8/2021 on the Agency’s support to external border management concluded that there were several shortcomings related to the Agency’s primary activities, namely situation monitoring, risk analysis, vulnerability assessment, joint operations and rapid border interventions, return operations and the Agency’s training and the lack of needs and impact assessments prior to the exponential increase in the Agency’s expenses;

G.  whereas Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs established the Frontex Scrutiny Working Group (FSWG) that published a report on the fact-finding investigation on the Agency concerning alleged fundamental rights violations on 14 July 2021 (the ‘FSWG report’);

H.  whereas the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) closed part of its investigations on 15 February 2021 that looked at the handling of reports of fundamental rights incidents including push-backs; whereas OLAF is still investigating some allegations on other issues; whereas the OLAF report regarding the investigations has not been shared with the members of the Budgetary Control Committee or of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs; whereas this hampers the scrutiny work of the Budgetary Control Committee in light of the high relevance of that report to the discharge procedure;

Budget and financial management

1.  Notes that the budget-monitoring efforts during the financial year 2020 resulted in a budget implementation rate of 78,42 %, representing a decrease of 21,42 % compared to 2019; highlights that EUR 360 million of EUR 364 million of the budget were committed; takes note that EUR 95 million has been returned to the Union general budget; notes with concern that the payment appropriations execution rate was very low at 43,84 %, representing a decrease of 25,30 % compared to 2019;

2.  Notes the Court’s remark that, for the financial planning of its return operations, the Agency relies on estimates provided by the cooperating countries and that complete and timely availability of this information is crucial; notes the Court’s observation that in 2020 in one case a national authority included two previously unannounced return operations, totalling EUR 355 000, in a grant agreement at the financial closure of the action, resulting in a sudden budgetary deficit for the Agency, that forced the Agency to make an ex-post budgetary commitment, contravening the Agency’s Financial Regulation; acknowledges the dependence of the Agency on cooperating countries and calls on the Agency to be more strict in setting and enforcing standards related to completeness and timeliness for the receipt of information related to financial planning of operations, including the return operations; recalls that rules and principles of the Agency's Financial Regulation must be observed and respected in all situations;

3.  Highlights the fact that the Agency started an upgrade of the Frontex Applications for Return (FAR) and Integrated Return Management Application (IRMA) systems to take steps towards an interoperable system of costs connected to activities, to ensure sound financial management of grants; highlights that the Member States will be obliged to insert operational and financial details of the activities carried out; calls on the Commission to strengthen the relationship between the Agency and the Member States and to ensure binding rules for the Member Stated for financial and operational protection and monitoring;

4.  Notes the Court’s observation that the contribution of Schengen Associated Countries is understated, as it made up 6,91 % of the Agency’s initial budget, whereas this should have been 7,43 %, without overstating the Union’s contribution since that is budgeted irrespective of the participation of the Schengen Associated Countries; echoes the Court’s observation that this is an indication of the need for additional guidance from the Commission to Union bodies on how to calculate contributions from non-Union countries consistently;

5.  Notes the Court’s observation that the pandemic has affected the Agency’s operations and budget implementation in 2020, with the Agency reducing its initial budget by EUR 95 000 000, through two amending budgets; notes that a provisional budgetary commitment of EUR 18 100 000 for the preparation of field deployments in 2021 was carried forward without the Agency having entered into legal commitments within the time limit laid down in Article 75 of the Agency’s Financial Regulation; notes that the Agency acknowledges the observation whilst working on remedial measures to prevent future occurrence, which entails the verification of carry-forward tables for the associated legal commitments; acknowledges that the Agency issued an administrative notice with guidance on the annuality principle which explained the carry-over rules in detail;

6.  Notes that the Union funding to the Agency increased by EUR 10 million by means of Amending budget No 1/2020; deplores that that amount was not visible in the budgetary accounts of the Agency; agrees with the Court’s opinion that this reduces transparency as it makes it harder to see how much Union funding was available to the Agency in 2020 and how that amount changed over time; emphasises the need to ensure transparency as a priority;

7.  Recalls the Court’s conclusion that the Agency’s operational reporting fails to inform decision-makers adequately as it lacks information on actual costs and performance; reiterates its request to the Court to assess the progress of the Agency on recommendations 1 to 4; calls on the Agency to inform the discharge authority on the results of the suggested contacts with the Court and the Commission and to urgently solve the issue of lacking supporting evidence;

Performance

8.  Notes that the Agency uses certain measures as key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the performance of its activities, adopted by the Agency’s management board, stemming from the single programming document 2020-2022; notes in particular the KPIs on the vacancy rate, the availability and adequacy of human resources pools, the availability of technical equipment for the Agency’s mission and the detections of illegal border crossing;

9.  Notes that the Agency implemented two rapid border interventions at the external land and maritime borders of Greece with Turkey that required deployment of technical equipment from the rapid reaction equipment and technical equipment pools, as well as human resources;

10.  Notes that the Agency’s surveillance aircraft services performed a total of 1 068 missions in 2020 out of which 1030 were surveillance flights and 38 related to fishery control; welcomes the fact that the number of surveillance aircraft services increased over the past years with a number of 177 missions in 2017 and a number of 1068 missions in 2020;

11.  Notes that the Agency’s assets in maritime operations have helped to rescue more than 3 408 migrants during patrolling activities, which also resulted in the detection of 790 facilitators, four traffickers of human beings and a wide variety of other types of cross-border crimes, such as smuggling of illegal goods and substances (1 463 litres of alcohol, 4 013 pieces of ammunition, approximately 361 kilogrammes of cocaine, more than 144 tonnes of hashish and marijuana, and 40 kilogrammes of heroin);

12.  Notes that the Agency’s return operations, despite being impacted by the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued with 21 Member States taking part as either organisers or participants in return operations by charter flights coordinated and co-financed by the Agency, with overall 7 952 persons handed over, reaching 28 third countries of return, significant lower numbers than in 2019; notes that voluntary returns made up for 18 % of all supported flights; notes that 26 Member States carried out returns by scheduled flights with the Agency’s support, returning 3 981 third country nationals to 83 countries of return, with among the returnees 2 173 (55 %) unescorted and 1 532 (38%) returning in a voluntary manner;

13.  Notes that in 2020 COVID-19 related measures included the closure of borders and suspension of air traffic, which affected all operational activities coordinated by the Agency; notes that the number of return operations drastically dropped in 2020; calls on the Commission to introduce, in close cooperation with the Agency, an emergency plan that sets out certain safety measures, ensuring the safe continuation of return operations;

14.  Notes that the activities of the Agency’s fundamental rights officer (FRO) were hampered by the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly its on-site monitoring role of the Agency’s operational areas due to general travel restrictions and the closure of Union borders; notes that monitoring was conducted exclusively through maintaining contacts with the Agency’s operational response division and the situational awareness and monitoring division, accessing briefings provided to deployed officers and incoming reports, gathering information from the media, cooperating with the consultative forum and other international organisations; notes that the FRO formally registered ten serious incident reports (SIRs) with three final FRO reports issued closing the SIRs and three more considered closed pending the publication of the FRO reports; notes that the concerned SIRs involve alleged violations of fundamental rights in the course of operational activities, including return operations, coordinated by the Agency (i.e. relating to Member States’ and Agency staff);

Fundamental rights and follow-up to the 2019 discharge cycle

15.  Reminds that, Parliament, through its resolution of 21 October 2021 with observations forming an integral part of the decision on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for the financial year 2019(2), called on the budgetary authority to place a part of the Agency's 2022 budget in a reserve, to be released upon completion of seven conditions; regrets that following negotiations for the 2022 budget that reserve was not implemented; reiterates, however, that the Agency’s discharge of the 2019 financial year has made explicit that a failure to meet those conditions increases the risk of a refusal to grant the discharge for the financial year 2020; emphasises the need to evaluate the performance of the Agency on each of the 2019 conditions in the 2020 discharge, to nurture consistency between the discharges across the years, and as a means to assess the Agency’s performance, including on legal compliance; takes note in this context of the recent input received from the Commission in its letter addressed to the Committee on Budgetary Control on 24 March 2022 and of the state of play of the implementation of the conditions set in Parliament’s resolution of 21 October 2021, provided by the Agency at the same date;

16.  Notes that, with respect to the seven conditions established by Parliament in its resolution of 21 October 2021, the Commission assesses that the Agency has made ‘significant progress over the last 1,5 years’, but ‘more still needs to be done’; considers for each of the seven conditions the following:

   (a) is disappointed that the Agency is still unable to fulfil the requirement of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896, which provided for the recruitment of at least 40 fundamental rights monitors (FRMs) by December 2020; notes with regret that to the present date only a total of 20 FRMs have taken office, out of which 5 at AD level and 15 at AST level, hence facing a significant delay in complying with the first condition as set out in the 2019 discharge; notes that the subsequent steps of the recruitment are under the control of the FRO, conducted independently from the office of the executive director; notes that the FRO finalised, at the end of February 2022, the procedure for the recruitment of the second batch of 20 FRMs in the AD function group, who, however, have not yet taken office to the present date; notes with regret that 8 out of these 20 additional FRMs were already employed in the AST function group, and that therefore a complementary call for applications has to be launched; welcomes the cooperation between the Agency and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in that recruitment;
   (b) notes that all three deputy executive directors have been recruited and have joined the Agency;
   (c) notes that the executive director signed, on 25 February 2022, the standard operating procedure on the mechanism to withdraw the financing of, or suspend or terminate, or not launch Agency’s activities; notes that Article 46 of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 requires the Agencies´ executive director to suspend, terminate, or not launch activities when there are risks to violations of fundamental rights; notes that the Agency did not evaluate its activities in Greece, even though reports by institutions of Member States, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations show that the Agency was carrying out operations in sections where simultaneously, fundamental rights violations were taking place; stresses that meeting condition referred to in point (g) of this paragraph (on the suspension of operations in Hungary) is a relevant part of the proper implementation of Article 46 of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 as formulated in that condition;
   (d) notes that the executive director signed, in April 2021, the revised standard operating procedure on the SIR mechanism defining the role of the FRO in the process; notes that a report on the practical implementation of this procedure has been presented by the executive director and the FRO, concluding that there is a need to further revise the procedure; stresses furthermore that the SIR mechanism, though not automatically triggering an investigation, are followed up and enable the FRO to be in the lead; notes that the Agency has not yet fixed deadlines with Member States as to when they need to respond to a SIR;
   (e) the Agency has adopted special rules to guarantee the independence of the FRO, it has recruited and adopted a new FRO as well as a deputy FRO; notes that the Agency has drawn up a fundamental rights strategy and action plan, it has adopted a specialised fundamental rights training curriculum for FRMs and has also revised its complaints mechanism;
   (f) notes that the Agency has completed the implementation of a competency management project and has adopted a value-adding knowledge management and need-to-know policy, which is currently upgraded with new improvements, while the implementation of the situational awareness and monitoring division’s transformation programme and a human resources capacity assessment are still in progress; notes that the Agency has postponed the deadline to fully implement recommendation 5 to 30 June 2022, beyond the timeframe for the implementation set out in the Court’s special report, in the context of a formal analysis to identify the Agency’s staff needs, especially in the areas risk analysis and vulnerability assessment;
   (g) notes that the Agency continues to operate in Hungary, though the Court of Justice of the European Union (‘Court of Justice’) concluded in a case initiated by the Commission that Hungary´s activities are incompatible with the Directive 2008/115/EC(3) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; notes that the Agency is providing operational assistance on these return operations; notes that additional safeguards have been put in place and all requests from Hungary for support are assessed on a case-by-case basis; notes that the FSWG called upon the Agency to suspend its support-related activities in Hungary; emphasises that the Court of Justice judgment gives clear guidance on the executive director to implement Article 46 of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 and suspend the activities in Hungary.

Concludes that the Agency has only partially met the conditions set out in Parliament’s resolution of 21 October 2021; calls upon the Agency to present a detailed roadmap to the discharge authority on how it intends to fulfil the outstanding concerns, together with a clear and detailed timeframe for these actions; urges moreover the Agency to rapidly take all necessary measures suggested by the OLAF investigation, in accordance with the legislation in place, and inform the discharge authority without delay about the scope and timeline of these proceedings; underlines that the response of the Agency constitutes an essential element to be evaluated in the discharge procedure for the financial year 2020;

17.  Recalls the conclusions in the 2019 discharge report for the Agency on the Court’s Special Report No 8/2021 and the range of operational shortcomings identified therein; recalls the conclusion from the Court´s report that the Agency did not yet take sufficient measures to adapt its organisation to fully implement its mandate under Regulation (EU) 2016/1624(4), and that the Court highlighted significant risks related to the Agency’s mandate under Regulation (EU) 2019/1896; recalls that the Court made five recommendations to the Agency and Commission, with deadlines for implementation by the end of 2021 (recommendation 5), the middle of 2022 (recommendation 1) and by the end of 2022 (recommendations 2, 3 and 4); notes that recommendations are addressed to the Agency and to the Commission, and that also Member States are involved in the implementation; underlines the importance the discharge authority attaches to the proper implementation of the recommendations made by the Court; recalls that recommendation 5 is included in the conditions formulated in the 2019 discharge report of the Agency and is still not fully fulfilled, and that implementation of the other recommendations is still pending; requests the Court to conduct an evaluation once the deadlines of recommendations 1 to 4 have passed (by the end of 2022) in the framework of the Court’s annual report for the Agency, in order to assess whether and if so to what extent and how the Agency has implemented Court’s recommendations adequately and in time; calls on the Agency and the Commission to keep the discharge authority informed about the implementation of the recommendations and expresses its commitment to reflect this in future discharge reports;

18.  Notes that in October 2020, journalistic investigations presented several allegations against the Agency regarding its possible complicity in illegal migrant pushbacks in the Mediterranean Sea; notes that these allegations were supported by video footage of the Agency’s assets allegedly participating in such actions; recalls that on the basis of these allegations, the Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs conducted an investigation by its FSWG; recalls the conclusions of the FSWG report that were extensively covered in the 2019 discharge report of the Agency; recalls in this context that the FSWG concluded that the Agency ‘did not find conclusive evidence on the direct performance of pushbacks and/or collective expulsions by the Agency in the serious incident cases that could be examined by the FSWG’; recalls that FSWG also concluded that the Agency had ‘evidence in support of allegations of fundamental rights violations in Member States with which it had a joint operation, but failed to address and follow-up on these violations promptly, vigilantly and effectively’ and that ‘as a result, Frontex did not prevent these violations, nor reduced the risk of future fundamental rights violations’; recalls that the FSWG report included recommendations to the Agency, Commission and Council, on issues concerning fundamental rights compliance of the Agency and governance, oversight, procedures for reporting, and the handling of complaints; notes that those recommendations are addressed to the Agency, its management board, Parliament, the Commission and the Council; notes that the executive director of the Agency reports in each management board meeting on progress implementing the recommendations made by the FSWG on fundamental rights and legal aspects of operations, the European Ombudsman and the Court; notes that there are no deadlines for the implementation of the recommendations, and calls upon the Agency to provide clarity to the discharge authority on the follow-up envisaged by the recommendations; calls on the FSWG to perform a follow-up inquiry into the implementation of the recommendations from the FSWG report and to communicate the findings to the discharge authority in order for them to be reflected in the discharge for the Agency;

19.  calls on the executive director to strengthen his relationship with the FRO and the consultative forum by taking consistently into account their recommendations, ensuring that the FRO is properly consulted before operations, and following up on the FSWG recommendations in a timely manner, and report to the discharge authority about the progress made;

20.  notes that the Agency’s FRO formally registered ten SIRs with three final FRO reports issued closing the SIRs and three more considered closed pending the publication of the FRO reports; notes that the concerned SIRs involve alleged violations of fundamental rights in the course of operational activities, including return operations, coordinated by the Agency (i.e. relating to Member States’ and Agency staff); stresses that the FSWG expressed concern ‘about the lack of cooperation of the Executive Director to ensure compliance with some of the provisions of the EBCG Regulation, notably on fundamental rights’;

21.  Recalls that all of the Agency's operations and activities must be conducted in full compliance with Regulation (EU) 2019/1896, as well as the EU Staff Regulation and the Agency’s Financial Regulation;

Staff policy

22.  Regrets that, on 31 December 2020, the establishment plan was 63,01 % implemented, with 662 temporary agents appointed out of 1 050 temporary agents authorised under the Union budget (compared to 484 authorised posts in 2019); notes that, in addition, 387 contract agents and 185 seconded national experts worked for the Agency (with 730 contract agents and 220 seconded national experts authorised for the Agency in 2020);

23.  Notes with concern the gender balance reported for 2020 at senior management level with 15 men (75 %) and 5 women (25 %), at the level of the management board with 50 men (83,3 %) and 10 women (16,7 %), and for the Agency’s staff overall, with 870 men (70,5 %) and 364 women (29,5 %); calls upon the Agency to improve the gender balance in its top management and staff, and report to the discharge authority about the progress made; reiterates its call on the Commission and the Member States to take the importance of ensuring gender balance into account when nominating their members to the management board of the Agency;

24.  Recalls that OLAF opened an investigation in 2019 over allegations of harassment, misconduct and migrant pushbacks involving the Agency, pinpointing irregularities; notes that OLAF closed the first part of its investigation into the handling of fundamental rights incidents on 15 February 2022 with a disciplinary recommendation and that its outcome was partially presented to the Members of Parliament's Committees on Budgetary Control and on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on 28 February 2022; notes, however, that the report has not yet been provided in writing to the Members, nor has other written evidence of the outcomes of the investigation been provided; notes with concern that this investigation refers to allegations in relation to the exercise of professional duties and non-compliance with the rules in place and that the report has been sent to the Agency’s management board under a secure reading room procedure; calls on OLAF and the Commission to make sure that the full investigation report will be shared with the discharge authority and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs as soon as possible, while fully respecting Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2020/2223(5) and all legal requirements on the protection of sensitive data and of the rights of the persons concerned, such as access to information on the allegations, preparation of their defence, and sufficient time to react;

25.  Recalls that it is necessary to have clarity on all elements of the investigation; underlines that the findings outlined in the partial presentation raise serious concerns as regard the performance of the Agency for the financial year 2020 and urges the management board and the Commission to take rapid action to address all issues raised, as the credibility of the Agency has to be beyond any doubt, in order for it to be able to fully fulfil its tasks and prerogatives, also in the context of the war in Ukraine; considers that the discharge authority has at the moment incomplete information to take a fully informed decision on discharge for the financial year 2020; reiterates its call on the Agency to fully cooperate with OLAF and to keep the discharge authority informed on any developments that are relevant for the discharge procedure;

26.  Reminds the importance of the Agency and of its role as a border and coast guard of the Union; calls therefore on the Agency to step up its efforts to follow up and appropriately address all OLAF recommendations with a view to ensure full functionality, as well as effectiveness and credibility of its actions, especially in the context of the current situation in Ukraine, when the border control of the Union and proper management of the increasing migration flows become of paramount importance;

27.  Notes with concern the Agency’s replies to Parliament’s written questions to the effect that in total 17 cases of harassment were reported to the Agency’s competent entities in 2020; calls on the Agency to carefully assess each case, taking a zero-tolerance approach to psychological, sexual or any other kind of harassment, and to proceed swiftly with holding those responsible for this misconduct accountable; welcomes the training received by the confidential counsellors and the actions undertaken to raise awareness among staff and inform staff on the confidential counsellors; welcomes the online awareness-raising sessions for executive, senior, and middle managers and team leaders, and that dedicated awareness sessions were organised to staff members that signed up for such sessions; calls on the Agency to inform the discharge authority about the outcome of these cases;

Procurement

28.  Notes that the Agency launched 23 open tenders in 2020, with five resulting in signed contracts for a total value of EUR 9 309 000,00, and 18 of these are still ongoing, with a the total value of EUR 153 294 000,00; further notes that the Agency launched 30 low- and medium-value procedures (negotiated with three and five candidates) with a total value of EUR 2 764 706,46, with out of the 30 procedures, 21 resulting in signed contracts in 2020 for a total value of EUR 1 992 904,00, while nine of these are still ongoing, for a total value of EUR 771 802,46; further notes that 213 very low-value procedures (negotiated with one candidate) for a total value of EUR 1 347 649,76 were handled by the Agency in 2020; notes finally that 776 procedures under existing framework contracts for a total value of EUR 91 451 075,83 have been handled in 2020 with 696 resulting in signed specific contracts or order forms, with a total value of EUR 80 895 932,89, while 80 of them for a total value of EUR 10 555 142,94 are still ongoing;

29.  Notes that the Agency led the inter-institutional tender for purchase of personal protective equipment with around 50 other Union institutions, agencies and bodies participating and a total value of EUR 60 580 000,00;

30.  Welcomes that the Agency introduced guidelines for green procurement for cleaning and canteen services and furniture delivery; encourages the Agency to evaluate the experience with green procurement and share it with the EU Agencies Network, and, where appropriate, to extend the scope of green procurement in the Agency;

Prevention and management of conflicts of interest, and transparency;

31.  Regrets that not all management board member CVs and declarations of interest are published on the Agency’s website; calls on the Agency, with the aim of increasing transparency, to publish the missing CVs and declarations of interest on its website and to report to the discharge authority on the measures taken in that regard;

32.  Recalls the discharge authority’s concerns in the 2019 discharge regarding transparency and interest representation for the Agency; notes the establishment and operationalisation of the Agency's transparency register; calls on the Agency to comply with the highest standards of transparency and to have the transparency register regularly updated; notes that the Agency implemented a new process to increase transparency; notes that all industry meetings (i-days) were organised online with presentation of more than 60 solutions by 50 companies, with the participation of 430 representatives of the Agency, Member States and Union partners, as well as international organisations; notes that the Agency, in addition to the i-days, organised an online demonstration of technological solutions back-to-back with the International Conference on Biometrics for Borders, showcasing over 100 solutions, with 23 industry presentations to over 470 conference attendees; notes that very few meetings appear however to be registered in the newly established transparency register; calls on the Agency to inform the discharge authority about which private parties it met during its biannual industry days in 2020; calls on the Agency to update the discharge authority on the progress made in this regard;

33.  Stresses that the European Ombudsman urged the Agency to ‘ensure a more proactive approach to transparency’; recalls the call of the FSWG on the Agency ‘to further increase its transparency by acting in accordance with the practice of the AsktheEU portal and not resort to any copyright clause’ and ‘that SIRs, reports on the use of force and individual complaints should only be classified as restricted documents when necessary and on a case-by-case basis’;

34.  Emphasises the need for the Agency to cooperate with all its internal and external stakeholders in good faith, as embedded in Article 11 of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896;

35.  Notes recent media reports that the Agency spent EUR 8,500 to send its executive director on a private jet to attend a meeting in Brussels on 4 March 2020, even though it was notified a day in advance that the Brussels meeting would be scheduled, at the same day there was a commercial flight available; stresses that this is in contrast with a responsible handling of taxpayers’ money and urges the executive director to change his approach in this regard;

Internal control

36.  Notes the assessment of the internal control system performed by the Agency in 2020, concluding that, although the system is deemed overall effective, some improvements are needed; notes that this relates in particular to internal control principles 10 (control activities), 15 (communication with external parties about matters affecting internal control) and 16 (annual and ongoing assessment of the internal control system); calls on the Agency to also take into account of the Court’s observations in the annual assessment of the internal control system; notes that the Agency has formulated an action plan to address the identified shortcomings and that it is committed to a swift implementation of the actions; calls on the Agency to keep the discharge authority informed about the progress made;

37.  Notes the ongoing actions of the Agency on the observations of the Court; notes that the Agency has created an action plan to address the shortcomings identified by the Court; calls on the Agency to continue undertaking corrective actions, including the adoption and implementation of a sensitive posts policy in line with its own internal control standards, drafting a business continuity plan and obtaining the approval of its management board, addressing the risk of double funding from the Internal Security Fund and addressing the high level of carry-overs; calls however on the Agency to step up its efforts into reaching the required occupancy levels laid down in the staff establishment plan; welcomes the corrective steps taken by the Agency to address the issue of reimbursements to cooperating countries without the necessary supporting documentation; calls on the Agency to inform the discharge authority about the progress made on those matters;

38.  Notes the Court’s observation that the Agency had failed to record an exception note in the central register for exceptions; calls on the Agency to maintain its high standards of transparency and timely and complete registration of exceptions and non-compliance events and their underlying documentation;

39.  Notes the Court’s finding that on 1 September 2020 the Agency asked the Commission for permission to upgrade 100 AST posts into advanced-level posts (grade AD 7 or higher), for the standing corps and new tasks under the new mandate; notes with concern that the Agency, in anticipation of the Commission’s reply, on 9 September 2020, sent out 47 offers to advanced-level candidates with the Commission informing the Agency that it had no legal authority to upgrade the posts, resulting in the Agency immediately withdrawing the 47 job offers; emphasises that the Agency should have obtained legal assurance from the Commission before it proceeded, as this would have prevented unnecessary disturbance that resulted from the withdrawal; recalls that this has exposed the Agency at an unnecessary risk of reputational damage and litigation; calls on the Agency to prevent taking such actions without legal clarity in the future to avoid such situations from re-occurring;

COVID-19 response and business continuity

40.  Notes the establishment of a crisis cell within the Agency that supported its executive management throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, by providing support on business continuity, ensuring staff health, safety and wellbeing, and minimising disruption to the Agency’s operations; notes that the crisis cell was empowered with a temporary allocation of functions and staff from entities across the Agency to ensure efficient and sustainable management of processes and tasks;

41.  Notes that the Agency drafted specific guidelines on teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as an exit strategy; notes that, to facilitate teleworking and contribute to creating appropriate working conditions for staff, all staff, as well as external personnel in case of justified business needs, were allowed to take home certain office and ICT equipment they normally use at the office with an internal procedure developed to ensure control over the equipment and orderly pick up from the premises;

42.  Notes the Agency’s report that a new paperless workflow was launched for financial and procurement processes, including new implementing tools, such as online interpretation; notes the Agency’s remark that the impact of the pandemic in some cases can be positive, as it accelerated much-needed innovations and it simplified some procedures;

43.  Notes that the Agency’s training plan was significantly affected the pandemic, with travel restrictions imposed by Member States and the Schengen Associated Countries leading to the unavailability of both trainers and training locations, as well as restricted possibility to travel to the training sites; notes the Agency’s efforts to ensure business continuity by re-designing the entire training process, adjusted to remote learning;

Other comments

44.  Recalls that on 15 June 2021, the European Ombudsman concluded that there had been delay on the part of the Agency in implementing the important changes introduced by Regulation (EU) 2019/1896; notes that the European Ombudsman handled 13 cases that relate to the Agency, six on public access to documents, six on human resources management and one related to fundamental rights; notes that the European Ombudsman did not provide recommendations in six cases, that the implementation of four recommendations is ongoing and that in three cases the recommendation has already been implemented;

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45.  Refers, for other observations of a cross-cutting nature accompanying its decision on discharge, to its resolution of 4 May 2022(6) on the performance, financial management and control of the agencies.

(1) OJ C 143, 30.4.2020, p. 6.
(2) Texts adopted, P9_TA(2021)0442.
(3) Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals (OJ L 348, 24.12.2008, p. 98).
(4) Regulation (EU) 2016/1624 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 September 2016 on the European Border and Coast Guard and amending Regulation (EU) 2016/399 of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Regulation (EC) No 863/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Council Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004 and Council Decision 2005/267/EC (OJ L 251, 16.9.2016, p. 1).
(5) Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2020/2223 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 December 2020 amending Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 883/2013, as regards cooperation with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and the effectiveness of the European Anti-Fraud Office investigations (OJ L 437, 28.12.2020, p. 49).
(6) Texts adopted, P9_TA(2022)0196.

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