EEG meets Members of European Parliament to discuss how next EU budget can support deinstitutionalisation

On Wednesday, 10 October 2018, the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG) held a technical meeting entitled “Future of the EU funds for the transition from institutional to community-based care”. The event brought together Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the REGI and EMPL committees, European Commission officials and civil society to discuss how the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) can support the transition from institutional to community-based care. The meeting was hosted by MEP Brando Benifei on behalf of the European Parliament Intergroup on Child Rights and the Intergroup on Disability Rights.
The meeting started with opening remarks from the event’s host, MEP Brando Benifei and Sabrina Ferraina, co-chair of the EEG. They both mentioned the importance of the topic discussed and acknowledged the existing commitment of the EU towards the transition from institutional to community based care during the 2014 – 2020 funding period.
“During the 2014-2020 funding period, the European Structural and Investment Funds have been a key component in the transition from institutional to community-based care, benefiting children and families, people with disabilities and people with mental health problems,” said Ms Ferraina.  “Yet, more than 1 million children, persons with disabilities, people with mental health problems and homeless people continue to live in the long stay residential institutions, segregated from society in Europe,” she added.
MEP Brando Benifei said that collectively more has to be done to provide community-based care for social inclusion in the EU and that EU funds cannot be allowed to go to institutions or other arrangements not respecting freedom and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) (source: https://twitter.com/misver/status/1050028053332512769)
When speaking of the European Commission’s proposal on the Common Provision Regulation (CPR) and the significance of EU funds in fostering deinstitutionalisation and supporting the inclusion of persons with disabilities, MEP Helga Stevens (ECR) mentioned that references to non-discrimination and accessibility have been deleted from the proposed regulations, while these principles are included in the article 7 of the current CPR 1303/2013. “The proposed deletion or omission of non-discrimination and accessibility is not acceptable as this goes against CRPD,” MEP Stevens said.
She also noted that accessibility should be applied as a horizontal principle in the use of the Funds that CPR governs. “Accessibility, as well as participation of persons with disabilities, should be part of the criteria when selecting projects eligible for EU funding. Clear and transparent accessibility provisions should be included in the CPR proposal,” she added. “In concrete terms this means that the whole application procedure for EU funding should be transparent and accessible. When a call for projects is launched, this should be widely published so that everyone is aware of it, and so all organisations can have an equal chance of submitting project applications and competing for EU funds. This also means that information about the call for projects should also be provided in sign languages, easy-to-read and braille formats, and compatible with screen-readers,” MEP Stevens concluded.
She continued with demands to insert a specific reference to non-discrimination and accessibility in the Regulation, similar to the way gender equality has been included in Article 67. Furthermore, MEP Stevens stressed that EU funds should not be used to promote or continue institutionalisation or segregation. Proposed projects should be carefully screened to ensure that they actually contribute to inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society. “The best way to find this out is to check whether persons with disabilities themselves are playing an important role in selecting, implementation and monitoring of project proposals,” MEP Stevens said.
Katerina Nanou, EEG member and Policy and Advocacy Officer at Eurochild agreed with MEP Stevens on the importance of re-introducing article 7 on promotion of equality between men and women and non- discrimination. She added that EEG we will continue asking for this reference. She also mentioned that CPR should, indeed, prohibit the use of EU funds for institutionalisation or segregation of people. “The EEG community is glad to see that the ex-ante conditionality 9.1, which played an important role during the 2014-2020 funding period as it prioritised deinstitutionalsiation reforms in 12 Member States, has now been strengthened,” Ms Nanou said. “The EEG community calls on the European Parliament to maintain measures for the transition from institutional to community-based care under enabling condition 4.3 on poverty reduction and social inclusion, which now applies to all EU Member States. In addition, measures indicating participation of civil society and social partners in design and delivery of the national strategies for poverty reduction and social inclusion – which is a great novelty of current enabling condition 4.3 – must be maintained”. With regards to the Partnership Principle, Ms Nanou said that although it is important to have the principle included in the proposed regulations, the European Code of Conduct on Partnership requires further revision, based on the lessons learned in the current funding period.
MEP Brando Benifei (S&D), Vice-President of the Disability Intergroup, Member of the Children’s Rights Intergroup and ESF+ Shadow Rapporteur noted that there is a tendency to insist that the EU remains competitive. “At the same time, we should not forget that ESF+ should be supportive of the social funding for the Member States, especially in terms of the outreach to the most marginalised groups,” he added. He pointed out that one of the challenges he observed in many Member States has been the outreach. “We are not reaching those who are in most need to be reached, those who don’t have other opportunities,” MEP Benifei said. To address this, final provisions for the European Social Funds Plus (ESF+) need to explicitly mention accessibility. Furthermore, explicit mention of deinstitutionalisation, especially for those with multiple and intersectional discrimination, including children, should be included in the Articles 4 and 6 of the ESF+ regulations, according to MEP Benifei.
In addition, MEP Benifei spoke about a brand new specific objective that aims to increase access for persons with disabilities in the ESF+ regulations.  He said that Disabled persons’ organisations (DPOs) need to be provided with space in the multilevel governance principle and the monitoring committees. All documents need to be available in accessible formats with sign language interpreting available at the meetings.
In the innovations strand, guidance on the deinstitutionalisation of services should be developed for the implementation of the European Pillar for Social Rights. He echoed MEP Helga Stevens, saying that funds should not go to institutional settings, which do not allow dignity or freedom of choice.
Marie Anne Paraskevas, Senior Policy Expert at DG EMPL, European Commission mentioned that, in terms of deinstitutionalisation, DG EMPL kept the model of the 2014-2020 programming period by including the Article 6 on equality between men and women. Ms Paraskevas also expressed concern about the deletion of provisions on accessibility from the ESF+ regulations due to simplification. “The European Code of Conduct on Partnership, indeed, should and will be revised,” said Ms Paraskevas. At the same time she noted positive developments in the proposed CPR, such as obligation of the Member States to include all stakeholders with equal voting rights and balanced representation.
Nadia Hadad, EEG member and ENIL board member explained the important role of the ESF+ in promoting the transition from institutional care to family and community-based care, as well as timely and equal access to quality, affordable, non-segregated, sustainable and inclusive education and training and community-based care services. She stated, however, that in the next funding period, Erasmus+ needs to support independent living, as progress until now was slow. Ms Hadad added that it cannot subsidise institutions that segregate persons with disabilities and can’t fund staff costs in institutional care. Ms Hadad added that it is important to ensure that in the next ESF+ there is an adequate amount of funds for social inclusion, as many Member States exceeded the allocation of 20% in the current programming period. This, in turn, will strengthen the contribution of Funds to social inclusion of different groups. For this, “the earmarking for social inclusion should be increased to 30%”, Ms Hadad concluded.
MEP Julie Ward (S&D) from the REGI committee took the floor saying that, as a member of Parliamentary Intergroups on Disability, Poverty, Youth and Child Rights, she has a direct responsibility to ensure that ERDF and CPR regulations prioritise the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care.
Ms Ward shared three key points that institutions should be reminded of. First of all, there is the historic signing of the European Pillar on Social Rights which was adopted one year ago. “It should never just be a signature with a nice picture. It needs to be translated into a real change,” MEP Ward said. Next, Ms Ward highlighted the importance of Child Guarantee which provides children with an opportunity to grow up included in societies, without being at risk of poverty. “We need to fight for this as there is no consensus. We need to shame politicians who sign up for things and don’t follow through,” stated MEP Ward. Finally, she mentioned that resources are very important and that the EU and the Member States should ensure that they continue fund the transition from institutional to community-based care.
MEP Ward raised concerns with regards to the halt of financing from the EU of the European Network on Independent Living and she said that the EU should re-consider its decision. “Such networks as ENIL should be funded as they are the voices of thousands of people across Europe asking for their right to live independently in the community,” MEP Ward concluded.
Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Andor Urmos, Policy Analyst at DG REGIO, said that simplification in the proposed regulations for the next MFF is done not only to get rid of bureaucracy, but also to simplify access to funding; it is also to make clear that the rule of law applies, he added. “There is no need to repeat things all the times,” Mr Urmos said. “There is plenty of misuse when it comes to EU funding. Interpretations of text change in different countries, especially on what counts as community-based services. When it comes to Partnership Principle, many Member States do not take into account important stakeholders. Sometimes there are politically driven partnerships. This is something that needs to be tackled”. Finally, he mentioned that many stakeholders are either misinterpreting the rules or abusing them. “We need to look at how we ensure enforcement, and this could be an issue of litigation,” Mr Urmos concluded.
Susanne Bosman, EEG member and Programme Associate at UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) shared the EEG’s concerns about the weakened text of the proposed European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) regulations. She said that although the EEG community understands the rules of simplification, it is important to re-introduce the transition from institutional to community-based care as an investment priority in the proposed ERDF regulations. “Under the Article 6, which stipulates which activities should be excluded from the scope of ERDF and Cohesion Fund, an explicit reference prohibiting the use of funds for building or refurbishing of institutions should be included. We need to ensure that these regulations clearly indicate that no funds can be used for the segregation of people,” Ms Bosman concluded.
Milan Šveřepa, EEG Co-Chair and Director at Inclusion Europe closed the meeting by thanking MEP Brando Benifei for hosting the event and MEPs Helga Stevens and Julie Ward for intervening and sharing their thoughts on how the future MFF should prioritise the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care. He said that EEG is tabling amendments for the proposed regulations on European Regional Development Fund, European Social Funds Plus and the Common Provision Regulations. “I remain confident that the EU will continue championing the rights of people in vulnerable situations who are either at risk of or are being institutionalised,” he concluded.
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