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Will the European Commission stop using European taxpayers’ money to violate human rights?

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

PRESS RELEASE - 27 September 2023, Brussels


Today non-governmental organisations, human rights lawyers and activists presented in a webinar how European funds continue to violate human rights, namely the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Charter), and reinforce marginalisation of people most in need.


Project examples from Greece, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria show how EU funds support deprivation of liberty of asylum seekers, isolation and abuse of people with disabilities in institutions, and segregation of Roma communities. 424,5 million euro are at stake.


Despite numerous complaints and legal actions launched by human rights lawyers and organisations over the last ten years, European authorities still support the unlawful use of European taxpayers’ money.


Undeterred by the striking evidence it appears that EU expenditures have continued – directly or indirectly – into institutions", said Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of People with Disabilities of the United Nations. “Full alignment of EU funds with the UN and EU human rights regulations is necessary”.


The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights will publish a report on how fundamental rights requirements should be aligned with EU funds by the end of 2023.


Participating organisations will continue investigations into the misuse of EU funds for violations of the Charter.


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

EU funds have an obligation to comply with legal requirements, in particular the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Charter). Article 6(1) Treaty of the European Union (TEU) recognises the Charter, the Charter should be applied across all legal and policy actions, where 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 period, the Common Provision Regulations (the regulation which sets out rules for the EU budget) include several provisions to reinforce the obligations for alignment with the Charter. For instance, in the 2014-2020 period, the provisions on the horizontal principles (articles 4, Articles 5, 7, 8 Regulation No 1303/2013). 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 up further in Article 15 and Annex III, having mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with the Charter is a pre-condition for Member States to be able to use EU funds, as part of the set of so-called “horizontal enabling condition” This applies to all funds covered by the CPR, namely European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund Plus, Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, the Internal Security Fund and the Instrument for Financial Support for Border Management and Visa Policy. A shared competence, 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 groups:

  • Disability Rights: The violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and the Charter have been raised 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) also uncovered rights violations in EU funded projects in Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Portugal for which it submitted several complaints (here). Validity Foundation has also raised these aspects in the 2017 report called Straightjackets and seclusion and submitted, together with ENIL, several complaints concerning Romania, Estonia, Poland. In its 2018 report the Fundamental Rights Agency has also called attention to use of EU funding 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 fundamental rights compliance EU-funded migration centres in Greece. Moreover, in a joint policy note, the Platform for the International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) also report 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 effective application and implementation of 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 of a project in Nyiregyhaza, which has reinforced spatial segregation and thanks to justified violation of the Charter, the European Commission suspended the payments (Hungary 2022 Human Rights Report). At the same time the European Commission several times raised awareness about the to prevent and tackle educational and housing segregation in the national Roma integration strategies and make 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 project and/or call for proposals that were presented during the webinar as unlawful EU investments. 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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