Agnès Diallo now oversees biometric databases sold to the EU by her former employer. Interesting to see how she deals with claims for compensation against Atos.
Last week, Agnès Diallo took office as the new director of the Tallinn-based Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems (eu-LISA). The EU has thus once again given an important post to a highly-paid employee of the French software giant Atos: in 2019, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had already appointed the then Atos CEO Thierry Breton as Commissioner for Industry and Internal Market.
At Atos, Diallo held various management positions, most recently for the executive board. There she was responsible, among other things, for “improving the sales processes” of the group of companies. In this context, she already worked together with eu-LISA, the agency confirmed in response to a question from “nd”.
For more than two decades, Atos has received major contracts from the EU Commission for the establishment and operation of large databases in the area of justice and home affairs. This costs the company something: According to an EU-funded study, Atos regularly takes part in lobby meetings with representatives of the Commission and has “10 in-house lobbyists in Brussels”.
On behalf of the EU, Atos was responsible for the development of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the 1990s. Since 2014, the company has also been involved in consortia tasked with upgrading this largest European police database. With another consortium of three, Atos also won contracts worth almost €300 million to operate the European visa database.
In 2019, the company received a €142 million contract with a consortium of IBM and Leonardo to set up the “Entry/Exit System” (EES). It is the new flagship of eu-LISA: As a biometric register for all border crossings of non-EU citizens at the external borders, it stores their fingerprints and facial image. According to eu-LISA, the cost of this project has already increased by around €30 million.
Originally, the EES was supposed to go into operation in May this year, but eu-LISA has now postponed the date for a yet unspecified period of time. The agency sees most of the blame for this on the companies responsible for setting it up, including Atos: the EES consortium had “substantially underestimated” the complexity of the work to develop and implement the new information system, it says in its answer to a parliamentary question by MEP Patrick Breyer.
Among other things, the staff the companies recruited for the programme did not have the necessary “expertise in key areas”. eu-LISA also criticises the “quality of main deliverables”. Several times, the firms had been asked to remedy the deficiencies, but they had “failed to responded in a timely and efficient manner”.
As the new director at eu-LISA, the former Atos manager Diallo is also responsible for claims for compensation against her former employer. However, the head office in Estonia does not want to comment on this yet. “Possible solutions are discussed in close cooperation with the eu-LISA Management Board and the European Commission,” writes the agency in response to a question from “nd”.
These recourse claims could even add up, because the delayed commissioning of the EES leads to a cascade of further problems. For example, the introduction of the travel information system ETIAS, with which third-country nationals who do not need a visa for the EU, but will have to declare their stay in future, is also delayed. The same applies to a super database in which the EU wants to merge all existing systems containing biometric data. Atos is also involved in this ” Interoperability Project” as part of a consortium, which will receive €442 million for this.
Diallo’s previous employment at Atos also met with scepticism from MEPs in the Home Affairs Committee. At a hearing on the selection of the new director in November, the parliamentarians finally voted for another candidate, Mailis Pukonen from Estonia. However, the administrative board of eu-LISA – where the 27 EU member states organise themselves – overruled this.
“I have always been against these systems, so the delay of the EES alone does not make me too sad,” commented Cornelia Ernst, a member of the Left Party, in an interview with “nd”. But the additional costs would have to be borne by EU taxpayers, so eu-LISA should not let the recourse claims against Atos come to nothing.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: EES pilot project (Frontex).