The EU’s border protection agency is having trouble recruiting staff because it cannot offer attractive salaries, its executive director warned.
“At this point recruitment is the most important challenge faced by the agency,” Fabrice Leggeri, the director of Frontex, told POLITICO in an interview to mark the one-year anniversary of his agency’s expanded powers.
Frontex is in the process of trying to increase the size of its staff, with a goal of raising personnel numbers from 488 to 1,000 by 2020.
Leggeri, speaking by phone from the agency’s headquarters in Warsaw, said the recruitment problem was because of EU regulations that determine salaries based in part on local wages and cost of living. As its headquarters are in Poland, Leggeri said, “our staff gets only two-thirds” of the standard remuneration at EU institutions in Brussels.
Leggeri, who is French, stressed that he was not asking EU leaders to increase his agency’s budget, which he said was sufficient, just how much staff can be paid.
The Frontex chief’s warning shines a spotlight on a problem facing the EU when choosing sites for its agencies — one that is particularly relevant because of the ongoing process of relocating the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority from London after Brexit.
Under EU regulations, salaries in Brussels are considered the benchmark, with employees of agencies in other countries receiving higher or lower wages depending on the cost of living based on what’s known as a “correction coefficient.” In Poland, Leggeri said, that means “we get 66.4 percent of the salary which normally we should get if we were in Brussels.”
Leggeri said “we have to make sure that the recruitment is balanced, that there’s a geographic balance, and for the time being this situation … is detrimental to candidates that come from other countries than Poland, especially if they have family ties in their member states of origin, if they have an apartment … if they have children.”
He added: “The Commission is aware of that and we have discussions about this situation.”
Frontex now plays a crucial role for the bloc. At the peak of the 2015 migration crisis that brought more than one million refugees to Europe, EU countries decided to impose tighter controls on its external borders. Frontex also has gained responsibilities in the fight against terrorism and cross-border crime.
Its expanded powers came into force on October 6 last year. “We quickly implemented the mandate and now the agency is more present in the field and more operational than ever,” Leggeri said.
He said the agency can now deploy a “rapid reaction” team of 1,500 officers, made available by EU countries. It has already deployed 1,700 officers to operations in Greece, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and the Balkans (up from just 300 at the start of the migration crisis)
Frontex is also now responsible for supporting member countries when they return illegal migrants. “We have organized since the beginning of this year more than 250 flights, Frontex flights, corresponding to around 11,100 irregular migrants returned with the support of the agency,” Leggeri said.
One longstanding proposal, yet to be implemented, to help prevent migrants crossing from Africa into Europe, is to set up registration centers in Libya — an idea that’s been endorsed by countries including Hungary and Italy, which normally have very different attitudes to migration.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently revived the proposal, but Leggeri said that, because of the conditions in the North African country, he was not keen. “I would not send my officers to Libya because the security situation there doesn’t make it possible,” he said.