Vienna and Brussels, 22 September 2021 – In July 2020, Independent Living Austria (ILA) and the European Network for Independent Living (ENIL) submitted an official complaint to the European Commission, challenging the segregation and social exclusion of disabled people in facilities co-financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). At the heart of the complaint were eight institutions for disabled people in Upper Austria. A year later, in July 2021, the European Commission concluded that there was no breach of EU law. In response, ILA and ENIL provided additional evidence and asked the Commission to adequately investigate all allegations, with a view of establishing a breach of EU law.
In their response, ILA and ENIL argued that:
- The shared management of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) between the Member States and the Commission does not permit the Commission to shift the sole responsibility for the projects to the Member State. The European Commission has a responsibility to monitor and control the use of ESIF.
- The European Commission based its decision on the information provided by the State Government of Upper Austria and the Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Regions and Tourism. The Commission failed to include, in its assessment, reports of the national human rights institutions (NHRIs), such as the Independent Monitoring Committee for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Austrian Ombudsman Board and the Austrian Disability Ombudsman.
- The Commission claimed the strategy for deinstitutionalisation (DI) in Upper Austria included facilities co-funded by EAFRD, as part of a progressive plan to close large institutions and substitute them by smaller ones. However, ILA and ENIL provided evidence that Upper Austria has no DI strategy, and that new institutions could never be in line with such a plan. Paradoxically, one of the new facilities was built to accommodate 16 persons, replacing a much smaller facility, for 8 persons.