BRUSSELS — The European Union's border and coast guard agency is being given additional tasks, like playing a greater role in the deportation of migrants, at a time when it is incapable even of fulfilling the duties it was ordered to carry out five years ago, the European Court of Auditors warned Monday.
The 27-nation bloc began bolstering Frontex, and desperately testing new migration policy, after well over 1 million migrants entered Europe in 2015, overwhelming reception centers and sparking a major political crisis about who should take responsibility for them. That dispute continues today.
Frontex is set to become the biggest and most heavily funded EU agency with some 10,000 officers and an annual budget around 900 million euros ($1.1 billion). The agency had 45 staff in 2005.
Presenting a report on the agency's work helping EU countries manage Europe's external borders, lead auditor Leo Brincat told reporters that "Frontex is presently not discharging their duty effectively, and we found that this is even more worrying at a time when Frontex is being given added responsibility."
The auditors said Frontex's support to EU member countries is "not adequate to combat illegal immigration and cross-border crime."
A year after hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict in Syria sought refuge in Europe, EU countries and the European Commission agreed in 2016 on a new mandate to formally establish Frontex as the European Border and Coast Guard agency.
Its main duties were to manage the unauthorized entry of migrants through the EU's external borders and to help reduce cross-border crime while respecting fundamental rights and ensuring that people could continue to move freely once inside Europe's ID-check free zone.
An updated 2019 mandate established the standing corps that it is due to grow to 10,000 officers by 2027. Frontex can now deploy border guards to countries outside the EU and, as the focus grows on deportation, help send people refused entry back to countries they left or transited to get to Europe.
Brincat said the auditors found that even before being set these additional tasks "Frontex was biting (off) more than it could chew."
"They went through too many changes too fast, and now I think they are paying the price for this," he said. "They have increased their mandate without really analyzing their performance or the impact of their work."
Frontex spokesman Chris Borowski acknowledged that the agency has "undergone a massive transformation that would have challenged any organization, especially in the times of the COVID pandemic," but that it remains committed to its mission despite the difficulties.