The European Ombudsman has sent a letter to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with eight proposals to ensure that the EU’s €350 billion Structural and Investment Fund does not support member state cohesion programmes which violate fundamental rights.
The EU’s Cohesion Fund for 2014-2020 aims to create jobs, reduce poverty and tackle social exclusion, mainly in the EU’s rural and disadvantaged areas.
Though member states are responsible for selecting the projects, making payments and handling complaints, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly now says that the Commission cannot abdicate its human rights obligations just because it does not directly manage the funds.
“The Commission should not allow itself to finance, with EU money, actions which are not in line with the highest values of the EU that is to say, the rights, freedoms and principles recognised by the Charter,” O’Reilly said in a statement.
The Ombudsman said she has been alerted because EU funds have been used to build institutions for people with disabilities instead of community-based living. A planned segregated neighbourhood for Roma, publicly advertised as benefitting from structural funds has likewise been built, and womens associations find it more difficult to access union financing.
O’Reilly reported that she has received complaints about national authorities using EU funds in violation of fundamental rights, including one concerning a job creation programme that clearly discriminated against women.
During an own-initiative inquiry, the Ombudsman consulted members of the European Network of Ombudsmen, the Fundamental Rights Agency, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and several civil society organisations.
The Ombudsman now wants the Commission to carry out more frequent and thorough on-the-spot visits to member states who implement the cohesion programmes. First of all, the Commission should avoid fundamental rights violations by focusing training and capacity building efforts on member states with a less positive track record in this area.
O’Reilly is also calling for the launch of an online platform where civil society can report fund abuses and violations of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. If member states fail to fulfill their obligations, sanctions should apply, the Ombudsman says.
The Structural and Cohesion funds are financial tools set up to implement the EU's regional policy. They aim to reduce regional differences in income, wealth and opportunities by mostly co-financing development projects.
The duration of the EU's next long-term cohesion budget is 2014-2020.
- 2014-2020: The duration of the EU's next long-term cohesion budget.
- European Ombudsman: Letter to the Commission informing it of the Ombudsman's targeted consultation
- European Ombudsman: Decision of the European Ombudsman closing her own-initiative inquiry