European Ombudsman deepens inquiry into respect of human rights in EU – Tunisia agreement

European Ombudsman deepens inquiry into respect of human rights in EU – Tunisia agreement
Credit: European Ombudsman

The Ombudsman's recent decision to continue her inquiry into the EU – Tunisia migration agreement has largely slipped under the radar until the European Commission became aware of it on Friday.

As previously reported, the European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly opened an inquiry in September last year about the respect for human rights in the EU-Tunisia Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). After a delay, the Commission replied in February this year to the Ombudsman’s questions. The Ombudsman proceeded to analyse the replies and was supposed to publish a report soon.

However, in beginning of April she decided to close the inquiry. Instead, she decided on 12 April to launch a new inquiry, asking for clarifications about the Commission's previous replies and requesting to inspect more documents related to the MoU.

The Ombudsman distinguishes between ‘strategic initiatives’ and ‘strategic inquiries’, which apparently confused the Commission. Both go beyond investigations of specific complaints and are initiated by the Ombudsman.

In a ‘strategic initiative’, the Ombudsman is seeking clarifications about or raising an issue directly with the institution concerned. The first investigation was of this kind. In a ‘strategic inquiry’, the Ombudsman has the power to proactively work on broader strategic issues.

A spokesperson of the Ombudsman told The Brussels Times that the new investigation is a follow-up of the initial request and allows its staff to inspect documents and meet with relevant officials in the Commission to explore the issued it raised in its questions. The questions are more or less the same as in the first inquiry, indicating that the Ombudsman was not satisfied with the answers.

On what points is the Ombudsman seeking clarification? According to the annex to the Ombudsman’s letter to the Commission, she wants to know how specific EU reports on human rights mentioned by the Commission were relevant for its assessment of the human rights implications of the MoU.

The Ombudsman also asks if the Commission has detailed criteria or implementing rules for its decisions on the suspension of funds in case of violation of human rights. Furthermore, does the Commission intend to publish more details on its website about the implementation of the MoU, including the projects and project partners?

The Commission is asked if it can provide more information on specific results-oriented monitoring exercises it has conducted as regards Tunisia.

What specific documents were missing in the first inquiry? The Ombudsman asks for access for all reports concerning EU-funded migration projects in Tunisia issued so far by the Commission. It also wants to read all assessments issued by the EU Delegation in Tunisia which, according to the Commission, constituted a basis for its negotiations on the MoU.

In mid-March, the EU signed a Joint Declaration for a Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership with Egypt, upgrading its association agreement from 2004. This agreement was also signed amid human rights concerns. The same questions asked by Ombudsman about the EU - Tunisia MoU can also be asked about the Partnership agreement with Egypt.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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