Spain is pushing to place a Spaniard in the highest echelons of Frontex, the European border agency. The Ministry of the Interior has presented a candidate whom it wants to make one of the three deputy directors of the agency and with him gain influence in the decision-making that will shape the EU strategy against irregular immigration. Although it is not easy for him, the medium-term objective, according to sources familiar with the negotiation, is for the Spanish candidate to emerge as the next director of Frontex.
Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is part of this campaign and thus transmitted it to the director of Frontex, the Frenchman Fabrice Leggeri, in a letter sent on May 23 to which EL PAÍS has had access. The letter, in addition to rejecting the agency’s offer of support in the face of the crisis in Ceuta, opened a way of persuasion to gain power in Frontex: “We will continue negotiating, at an operational and technical level, to find the ideal space that allows us increase our participation in the future of the agency, in its different levels of decision-making and execution of actions. I am sure that the value that Spain adds to the common challenges that affect us will be taken into account to the satisfaction of all ”.
Leggeri, however, is not the one who chooses his seconds. For this reason, the pressure exerted by various departments of the Spanish Government is directed at the members of the Agency’s Board of Directors, where senior police officers of the Twenty-seven – including two Spaniards, one from the Police and the other from the Civil Guard – defend the interests of the capitals and where there are also two representatives of the European Commission. Sources familiar with the process point out, however, that Spain could put more pressure than it is doing.
Spain, despite being one of the main EU gateways for irregular immigration, has been losing influence in the largest European agency in terms of staff and budget for years. Since the end of 2015, when Gil Arias left the position of deputy director, you have to go down to the fourth command echelon to find a Spanish representative. The aspiration now is to occupy a crucial deputy leadership, the one that holds the management and operational command of the 10,000 armed agents that the Warsaw-based agency aims to recruit until 2027.
The Spanish candidate is the Chief Inspector of Police Ramón Navarro Franch, an expert in international police cooperation who acted as a liaison for the Ministry of the Interior in Niger and Libya, crucial countries on the migration routes to Europe. Currently, Navarro, who has refused to speak to El PAÍS on the phone, occupies the position of Frontex liaison officer in Senegal, another strategic country on the migration route from the African continent to Spain, especially to the Canary archipelago, where from 2019 more than 30,000 migrants have arrived. Despite the fact that the negotiation is still open, sources from the agency see the appointment of the Spanish as very complicated, since it competes with other candidates from major partners such as Germany, the Nordic countries or the salzburg group (Austria, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia). The other two managerial positions, now vacant, are in contention between Italy and Portugal, according to the same sources. The selection process, however, will not begin until September, according to a Frontex spokesperson.
With the Interior movement, Spain seeks to influence the decisions that are made from the agency and that, although they affect it directly, do not always take into account the interests of the country. Spain’s relationship with Frontex is not easy and it has dragged disagreements over power spaces for years. The agency, which is in the midst of growth and influence in European migration policy, wants, for its part, a more relevant role in the external borders of Spain -such as in Ceuta or Melilla and the Canary Islands-, but the Spanish security forces they resist foreign officials meddling in their powers. Spanish agents often complain of the ignorance of the Spanish migratory reality that Frontex envoys – young officers, sometimes with little experience and from countries with realities and cultures as different as Latvia, or Finland – demonstrate on the ground, and their lack of operability. The latter has just been confirmed by the EU Court of Auditors in a very harsh report in which it dismisses the agency as “ineffective”.
Spanish suspicion, reflected in part in that report, is reflected in the limited deployment that Frontex has on its borders. Of the large Mediterranean countries, Spain is the one with the least presence of the agency. There are three operations, one in the Strait and the Alboran Sea (Operation Indalo), another minor in the Canary Islands and the one that starts up each year around this time with Operation Paso del Estrecho (Minerva), even though Morocco excludes the Spanish ports. Frontex deploys for all of them around 200 personnel, two planes, a helicopter and a ship and a budget of more than 16 million euros in 2020.
The agency is going through the worst reputation crisis in its history. Among the fronts it has open there is an investigation by the European Parliament into possible human rights violations in the Aegean Sea and it is expected that the final report prepared by a small group of MEPs and experts on these alleged malpractices by members of the agency will see the light at the end of the month or at the beginning of the next. However, Leggeri recently renewed his mandate and it is foreseeable that he will remain in charge until 2025. That is, if he manages to avoid every scandal that appears practically every month against the agency.
With information from Guillermo April.