ENIL was the first INGO that exposed the horrific effects of cuts and austerities on the rights and living conditions of disabled people in Europe. We received alarming messages, warnings and even cries for help from many of our member organisations as well as individual members. This has continuously increased since the beginning of the financial crisis in Europe, which has clearly resulted into a social and a human rights crisis. Recent research, such as the study from the EFC and data strongly confirm that disabled people in Europe have been hit disproportionately by the crisis.
Certainly the crisis is not disabled people’s fault, but in reality we are hit harder than other citizens. For ENIL this is unjustifiable. Prior to the crisis disabled people were among the most disadvantaged groups in society. Furthermore, the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in almost all member states of the Europe Union means steps taken backwards or even no action being taken to improve conditions for disabled people is unacceptable and can even be considered as illegal.
Within ENIL we do everything in our power to support disabled Europeans in the fight to defend our right on Independent Living and all rights enshrined in the UN CRPD. Highlighting and raising awareness among MEPs and local agents about this issue is crucial. During the last number of years we see more and more international DPOs and NGOs joining us in bringing the negative effects of the ‘crisis measures’ on disabled persons and their families to the attention of the general public and policy makers. We made alliances to organize hearings, debates and public events. We addressed MEPs on every occasion, set up email campaigns and tried to reach as many people as possible with our campaign.
On the European level, we need and expect a strong signal towards the member states that public expenditure for disabled people must be safeguarded from cuts and austerity measures. Politicians in many countries far too often use phrases like “Europe forces us …” as an excuse to implement cuts. In defending our human rights we need additional tools to counter and reverse this negative tendency.
This was one of the reasons why in September 2011, we launched the ENIL proposal on a resolution of the European Parliament on the effect of cuts in public spending on persons with disabilities in the European Union. This Resolution outlines measures that should be taken by the member states, the European Council and the European Commission to ensure that cuts in public spending do not lead to further social exclusion and institutionalisation of disabled people. Under the UN CRPD it is everyone’s responsibility to do this.
Bringing a vote on a resolution onto the agenda of the European Parliament is not an easy objective and we have experienced this first hand during the last number of years. We did not give up after our first attempt and persevered with determination. It certainly took a lot of cooperation and communication with MEPs from the different political groups but we continued to strive for this objective.
A few months ago we had good hopes in succeeding. We managed to gather over 40 individual signatures from MEPs for our Oral Question on the rights of persons with disabilities. Also a few Written Questions on this issue were addressed to the European Commission on the initiative of different MEPs. Our Oral Question was submitted in January 2014, and should according to the normal procedures be handled by the Parliament within three months.
We communicated our intention and expectation very clearly to the Presidents and several key MEPs on disability issues from the different political groups: “The debate on the Oral Question in the Parliament should lead to a vote on a resolution based on our proposal”. The response was positive, MEPs from each political group expressed their understanding of the matter and also their full support for the idea of a resolution. A political majority seemed to be a fact.
But now, several months later, despite all expressions of support, the European Parliament seems to be letting us down. It is the Conference of Presidents (leaders of each political group) who decide on the agenda in preparation of each plenary session of the European Parliament. Time after time our Oral Question did not appear on the agenda. When we inquire why, the explanation we get is that there are a lot of matters to be dealt with by the Parliament before the end of this legislation period in a limited number of plenary sessions left. More and more we receive the message that our Oral Question has very little or no chance anymore of getting on the agenda because there are simply too many urgent and important issues to be dealt with.
Of course this is very disappointing. Apparently the European Parliament and the Commission are letting its disabled citizens down. The European level is in many ways a driver for change and gives strong guidance to the member states regarding disability policy. But when this means to take action and make a stand that could potentially embarrass, or go against the plans, of ‘political friends’ in power in the member state governments, the European institutions stay earsplittingly silent and inert.
We understand that a lot of work needs to be done by the Parliament before it dissolves for the elections. We understand that priorities need to be made. So our conclusion, sadly enough, is that the rights and living conditions of disabled people are not a priority for the European Parliament. The explanation for our Oral Question not appearing on the agenda due to lack of time in the limited plenary sessions left sounds like a very weak excuse. Most especially when seeing Oral Questions on topics such as sport fishing did get on the agenda of the Parliament in these final plenary sessions.
So, unless a small miracle happens and our initiative for a resolution gets realized in the next few weeks, we cannot be positive about our current political representatives. We will continue bringing up this matter and other key demands from our ENIL elections manifesto in our meetings with MEPs and to our contacts in the Parliament.
On May 5th, the European Day for Independent Living, throughout Europe simultaneous events will take place to urge politicians running for election for the European level to take up their responsibility. We hope you join us in this campaign, to find out more please visit www.stopdisabilitycuts.eu
Peter Lambreghts, ENIL Board Member