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Operation Themis. Does the Frontex agency act without democratic control?

Unlike the EUNAVFOR Med operation, Frontex's Themis operation uses “civilian” means. But it does not respect any of the usual European rules: democratic control and transparency (credit: Frontex/ capture you Tube / Archives B2)

(B2) The recent launch of a new operation off the Mediterranean by the European Border and Coast Guard (the Frontex agency) is worrying.

A very blurry lens

The press release issued on this occasion leaves a certain vagueness and poses more questions than it answers. The new operation deals with search and rescue at sea, strengthening the law, fighting crime and terrorist networks (read: Frontex launches an operation in the central Mediterranean, named Thémis). But we don't really understand the objective of the new mission.

Closeness of objectives with EUNAVFOR Med

We asked for details from Frontex (based in Warsaw), especially on how the two operations EUNAVFOR Med and Thémis would coordinate. The response received just now (at 13 p.m.) is a little weak…. First of all, we were informed that THEMIS was civilian where EUNAVFOR Med was military. Real information! (1). Then, they explained to us that this mission only had the function of rescue at sea and was not tasked with the fight against migrant smuggling. Which is, there, in complete contradiction with the very statement of the official press release.

“At the same time, the new operation will have an enhanced law enforcement focus. Its operational area will span the Central Mediterranean Sea from waters covering flows from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Turkey and Albania. " Operation Themis will better reflect the changing patterns of migration, plus cross border crime. (…) said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.

The words are not completely identical. But they are very close to the words used for the EUNAVFOR Med operation. In any case, there is nothing to make a real distinction between the two operations.

An operation deployed without democratic control

This failure in communication actually reveals a more general problem. Unlike PSDC operations, which operate within a specific framework, these operations are carried out without any framework or legal authorization. Certainly there is a regulation defining the action of the European body, certainly there was an operation plan approved within Frontex, in agreement with the country of origin. But all this is done discreetly, “under the table”, at an infrapolitical level, without formal approval or transparency. In short, without democratic control in one way or another and without any transparency. Which is contrary to the rules, and above all, to the European spirit.

…without any published legal framework

No competent political authority at the level of the European Union – the Council of Ministers for example – has approved such an operation. No framework decision has set the objective, the means, the limits, or even the area of ​​operation. No decision has been published in the official journal or in any other medium. No information was given on the cost of this operation, nor its duration. No minutes have been recorded and are publicly accessible. No information to the European Parliament has been made officially. No translation even in the main languages ​​affected by this operation has been published.

A lack of justification explaining the exception

Good minds will no doubt consider that operational necessity imposes this absence of formalism. We can doubt the relevance of this argument, at least at the European level. A military operation carried out in the name of the European Union, financed by Member States alone, respects all these conditions: a framework decision is approved by ministers and published in the official journal in all languages. It sets the objective, the missions, the means, the rules relating to secrecy and data protection, gives indications on the area of ​​operation, the allocated budget, the duration of the operation and the political control of the 'operation.

Comment: the military respect a certain democratic obligation, why not the border guards?

One might wonder why a civil operation, always carried out in the name of the European Union, within a Community framework, with Community money, under a Community hierarchy, could avoid respecting these procedures. What is the political, democratic, constitutional, legal reasoning that can justify such an exception? (2) The military is doing this very well, the European border and coast guard corps, if it wants to maintain its relevance and legitimacy, should be doing very well.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) Which is a bit like taking the European public for an imbecile. Our questions on the usefulness of having two operations more or less in the same area, with more or less the same objectives, the means of coordination, the adequate use of European funding, however, remained unanswered.

(2) We asked the reason for such a shortage. No satisfactory response was provided.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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