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Can fundamental rights institutions stop the use of EU taxpayer money for human rights violations?

PRESS RELEASE - 8 November 2023, Brussels


A basic function of fundamental rights institutions both at national and EU level (equal treatment bodies, Ombudsman, etc) is to respond to discrimination regardless of residence status, ethnic origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Experience documented by civil society shows that in spite of identified human rights violations by fundamental rights institutions, EU funds have not been suspended and continue to violate human rights and reinforce marginalisation of people most in need.


Emily O’Reilly, the European Ombudsman has called the attention of the European Commission to these issues in her own-initiative inquiry (OI/2/2021/MHZ), pointing out among others the need for the Commission:

  • “to consult national human rights institutions and civil society organisations as early as possible in the process and where possible,

  • take into account investigations by national ombudsmen into whether the use of EU funds is compatible with the objective of promoting deinstitutionalisation”

Today representatives of the EU Ombudsman, the Polish Ombudsman, the National Council for Combating Discrimination in Romania, and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights presented their work to address human rights violations in major programmes funded by EU taxpayer money. Together with non-governmental organisations and human rights lawyers, they discussed how to enhance accountability for national governments and EU institutions, and called for decisive action to stop EU funds from contributing to widescale human rights violations.


Cases on human rights violations have been documented in numerous EU countries, including Greece, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Although human rights violations have been identified following complaints submitted to national and EU Ombudsman and equal treatment bodies, EU funds authorities and the European Commission did not introduce sanctions .


The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights presented a short summary of a forthcoming report on how fundamental rights should be mainstreamed into EU funds (to be published by the end of 2023) and also their work with national human rights institutions.


For any questions, please reach out to: contact@bridge-eu.org


A recording of the webinar will be made available on the website.


NOTE TO THE EDITORS


This webinar is part of series looking into discrimination in EU funds. During the first webinar(27 September 2023), speakers from Central-, Eastern- European and Mediterranean countries presented projects and explained how these have violated the rights of Roma, persons with disabilities and migrant background.


The use of EU funds must comply with key legal requirements, in particular the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Charter) and international human rights law. Article 6(1) Treaty of the European Union (TEU) sets out that the Charter must be applied across all legal and policy actions for which the European Commission is responsible. As the 2022 Annual report on the application of the Charter recalls, EU fund operations should be in line with the requirements of the Charter. Furthermore, in both the 2014-2020 and 2021-2027 programming periods, the Common Provision Regulations (the regulation which sets out rules for the EU budget) include several provisions to reinforce obligations to ensure alignment with the Charter. For instance, during the 2014-2020 period, the horizontal principles (articles 4, Articles 5, 7, 8 Regulation No 1303/2013) including partnership and multi-level governance, promotion of equality between men and women and non-discrimination, and sustainable development. In the 2021-2027 period, Article 9 CPR (Regulation (EU) 2021/1060) requires Member States and the Commission to ensure respect for fundamental rights and compliance with the Charter in the implementation of the Funds. As set out further in Article 15 and Annex III, Member States must have mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with the Charter as a pre-condition to be able to use EU funds, as part of the set of so-called “horizontal enabling conditions” This applies to all funds covered by the CPR, namely the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund Plus, the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, the Internal Security Fund and the Instrument for Financial Support for Border Management and Visa Policy. As an area of shared competence, the management of EU funds are a responsibility of both the European Commission and Member States.


There is evidence that EU funds are used in violation of fundamental rights laid out in the Charter across various fields and marginalised populations:

  • Disability Rights: Violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and the Charter were in by the Structural Funds Watch initiative in their 2017 and 2018 report. In its EU funds for our rights campaign, the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) has uncovered rights violations in EU funded projects in Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Portugal, and has submitted several complaints (here). The Validity Foundation also raised grave violations in their 2017 report called “Straightjackets and seclusion” and submitted, together with ENIL, several complaints concerning Romania, Estonia, and Poland. In its 2018 report the Fundamental Rights Agency called attention to issue of EU funding being used to keep people with disabilities in institutional settings and made several recommendations, including applying financial corrections.

  • People with a migrant background: In 2022 the European Ombudsman launched an inquiry into compliance with fundamental rights in EU-funded migration centres in Greece. Moreover, in a joint policy note, the Platform for the International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) and the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) reported that as of January 2023, 8 national programmes in 3 member states (Hungary, Poland and Cyprus) had been adopted which were not compliant with the Charter. A Lighthouse report documents violations occurred at the borders in Croatia, Bulgaria and Hungary, where people have been arbitrarily detained to facilitate returns or removals in facilities that are at least partially financed by EU funding programmes. In April 2023, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the European Commission on the use of EU Funds by Italy to build migrant worker camps in breach of fundamental rights.

  • Roma: Evidence on violation of Roma rights through EU funding is limited. At this moment, we are aware of complaint in Hungary concerning a project in Nyíregyháza, which has reinforced spatial segregation and, having found a violation of the Charter, the European Commission suspended payments (Hungary 2022 Human Rights Report). At the same time the European Commission has on several occasions raised awareness about the need to prevent and tackle educational and housing segregation in national Roma integration strategies and has made EU funds available to implement the strategies. This was highlighted in the EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation for 2020 – 2030 and the Assessment report on Member States’ national Roma strategic frameworks. The latter analysed the planned actions on desegregation, and highlighted the lack of desegregation measures in education and housing in Romania and Bulgaria.

The table below represents an estimated budget of the projects and/or call for proposals that were presented as unlawful EU investments during the webinar “Stop discrimination in EU funds: Violation of the Charter of Fundamental which took place on 27 Sept 2023. Further investigations are needed to better describe the volume of investments violating the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The participating organisations will continue to work on these investigations.

Country

Topic

Budget (million euros)

Austria

Institutionalisation

21,8

Bulgaria

Institutionalisation (children)

18

Bulgaria

Institutionalisation (adults)

54,7

Czechia​

Segregation

0,07

Estonia

Institutionalisation

4

Greece

Deprivation of liberty (reception of asylum seekers)

276

Hungary

Institutionalisation

12

Romania

Institutionalisation

13

Romania

Segregation

21

Slovakia

Segregation

4

Total

424,5

Compliance of EU funds with legal requirements has been scrutinised by the European (e.g. see European Ombudsman inquiries: OI/8/2014/AN; SI/3/2018/JN; OI/2/2021/MHZ) and international bodies. For example, in a joint letter to European Commission President Van Der Leyen, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Special Rapporteur on Housing raised in 2021 concerns about the use of the European Structural and Investment Funds to fund projects which violate the UN CPRD.

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