European Ombudsperson Opens Inquiry Into the Commission’s Administration of EU Funding Used in Greece’s Illegal Expulsion of Migrants
Dec 7, 2023
The inquiry is based on the joint submission of a complaint against the European Commission by de:border // migration justice collective, Legal Centre Lesvos, HIAS Greece, Equal Rights Beyond Borders, and Mobile Info Team, with the support of several investigative and research partners—including Dr. Lena Karamanidou, Border Violence Monitoring Network, Forensic Architecture and Lighthouse Reports.
The complaint demonstrates in extensive detail how, since at least 2018, EU funds—especially through the EU’s Internal Security Fund (ISF)—were repeatedly allocated, mismanaged and misused by Greek authorities. Additionally it highlights how these funds are, both directly and indirectly, contributing to serious and systemic breaches of EU law at the EU’s external border in Greece. Since the Commission knew this for years and yet failed to take appropriate enforcement actions to restrict or suspend funding, the complainants argue that it is responsible for maladministration.
The joint complaint, which was filed with the European Ombudsman’s Office in July 2023, demonstrates that despite extensive and authoritative evidence proving Greece’s de facto policy of summary expulsions (commonly known as “pushbacks”) in the Evros and Aegean regions, and Greece’s systemic denial and failure to remedy pushbacks and border violence against migrants, the European Commission continued to approve ever increasing sums of money to Greece, including funds specifically allocated for border management operations.
Since 2015, Greece has benefited from 3.39 billion euros in EU funding for migration management—including 450 million euros directly from ISF—used, amongst other things, to provide material and technical support to illegal border operations. 112.5 million euros of these 450 million were directly allocated to the Greek authorities for personnel, equipment and infrastructure at its external borders, without proper monitoring and review of Greek beneficiaries involved in pushbacks. EU funds have critically enabled the acquisition and operation of extensive border surveillance technologies, which have not however been used for the detection and rescue of individuals who cross Greece’s border irregularly.
The joint complaint shows that the Commission is remiss in its role as ‘guardian of the Treaties’. It has failed to take appropriate and effective enforcement measures addressing Greece’s systemic breaches of EU law in the context of its border operations and Greece’s mismanagement and misuse of EU funds. The Commission’s failures also pertain to its authority over the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, both as enforcer of the agency’s compliance with EU law and in administering its funding. While the Commission did initiate infringement proceedings against Greece in January 2023 for reception conditions (which also follows Oxfam and WeMove Europe’s complaint), these politically discretionary measures do not extend to Greece’s systemic EU law breaches in the context of its border operations.
This latest inquiry is a much-welcomed opportunity to critically examine the Commission’s role in providing material and operational support to the gravely violative border enforcement regimes in operation at the EU’s external border, with a view to its systemic reform. EU material and operational support for member states’ border operations—both at the EU’s external borders, and at the EU’s so-called ‘externalised’ borders in third countries—is coming under increasing scrutiny. This includes a planned own-initiative inquiry of the European Ombudsman into how the Commission monitors the respect of fundamental rights in border management operations supported by the EU (in the context of which it plans to request information from the Greek Ombudsman). This planned inquiry follows the Ombudsman’s inquiry on EU funds for border management in Croatia and the Commission’s lack of monitoring of steps taken by the national authorities to investigate mistreatment of migrants.
The European Ombudsman is the only forum before which civil society can contest the manner in which EU funding is allocated and managed. European civil society organisations do not have standing to challenge the Commission’s financing decisions before the Court of Justice of the EU. This is especially relevant when, as is the present case, financial decisions clearly concern more substantive matters; that is, supporting the manner in which the EU’s external borders are controlled and enforced. The Ombudsman’s scope of review is, however, limited to whether the Commission’s actions were “manifestly wrong”, based on how it exercises its discretion in following relevant legal limits and procedures.
In this initial phase of the inquiry, the European Commission is required to respond to a set of questions presented to it by the Ombudsman by 15 February 2024. The Office has indicated that it expects to revert to us on how the inquiry is progressing in February 2024.
The co-submitting organisations plan to make the arguments presented in the complaint and information obtained through this process public in due course, and welcome any requests for information and cooperation in the interim.
Valentina Azarova, de:border // migration justice collective, email@example.com
Marion Bouchetel, Legal Centre Lesvos, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elli Kriona Saranti, HIAS Greece, email@example.com