EU Agencies

In the coming years, the Meijers Committee sees particular risks in the establishment of new EU agencies in changes to the competences or structure of existing agencies. A reason for concern is, for example, the lack of clarity in the control of the exercise of powers by these agencies and the legal position of citizens vis-à-vis these institutions. Many improvements to the legal structure of these institutions are needed to ensure their accountability and transparency.

The agencies in the field of asylum and migration, but also in the field of criminal law cooperation, have been given increasing competences over the last decade. In the area of criminal justice, these include the agencies OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office), Europol, Eurojust and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO, to become operational in 2021). In the field of asylum, there is the European Asylum Agency and the European Border and Coast Guard (formerly FRONTEX). There is a lack of clarity regarding the competences of – and the responsibility for – these agencies. It should be transparent how these institutions work, which decisions are made and how, and how supervision and control are exercised by elected representatives. Currently, this is not sufficiently the case. At several agencies there are doubts about the control and supervision by parliaments, the protection of fundamental rights and the accessibility of complaint procedures.

To illustrate this last point, there is a great deal of confusion as to what legal remedies are available to citizens when they wish to file a complaint against EU agencies, for example in the context of a criminal prosecution (under the responsibility of the EPPO) or in the context of data collection and use (by, for example, Frontex). In many cases, it is simply not clear to which judicial forum in which Member State the citizen can or must turn. Recent rules on the mutual communication between the many information systems that EU agencies also work with (such as the Schengen Information System, the Visa Information System, Eurodac, ECRIS, etc.) have only increased this concern.

Most agencies also have access to large-scale databases and their functioning therefore also concerns data protection. For example, storing data of asylum seekers entering Europe (Eurodac), storing data of criminal convictions of non-EU citizens (ECRIS-TCN) or storing data of people applying for visas and their family members. These databases have been set up to serve different purposes. In order to prevent abuse and guarantee the rights of (non-EU and EU) citizens, it is important to define who has access to the information collected and for what reasons.