The European Union's Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, on Friday expressed concerns about a migration deal inked last July between the European Commission and Tunisia, saying the Commission should explain how the pact will not breach human rights standards.
“Did the Commission carry out a human rights impact assessment of the MoU before its conclusion and consider possible measures to mitigate risks of human rights violations?” asked O’Reilly who opened a rights probe into the agreement.
In the letter published on Friday, sent to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the Ombudsman said the EU executive needs to conduct a human rights assessment before signing deals with foreign countries.
“Does the Commission intend to carry out a periodic, systematic and effective HRIA [human rights impact assessment] of actions undertaken in the course of the implementation of the MoU?” O’Reilly wrote in the letter.
The Ombudsman is an independent overseer employed to handle complaints about the work of EU institutions and agencies and to investigate alleged administrative failures.
O’Reilly asked how the EU intends to safeguard rights in the migrant agreement signed over the summer with Tunisia's government.
She also asked whether the Commission has defined criteria for suspending funding if human rights are not respected.
O’Reilly has asked the Commission to reply by 13 December 2023. She said “where fundamental rights are not respected, there cannot be good administration.”
Last July, the European Union and Tunisia signed a memorandum of understanding for a “strategic and comprehensive partnership” on irregular migration, economic development and renewable energy. The deal was inked in the presence of von der Leyen, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte.
But international human rights organisations and MEPs from the left have criticised Brussels for forming an anti-migration partnership with President Kais Saied’s increasingly authoritarian regime.
O’Reilly’s letter also comes a day after Tunisia denied entry to a five-member delegation of the European Parliament and further increases scrutiny over the contentious deal.
Tunisia lies about 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, and has long been a departure point for migrants risking perilous sea journeys on makeshift boats in hopes of reaching Europe.