On 8 November 2016, the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) launched a campaign on the use of European Structural and Investment Funds (‘Structural Funds’) in the European Union (EU) Member States. The aim of the EU Funds for Our Rights Campaign is to encourage the European Commission and the Member States to improve the monitoring and complaints system, in order to ensure that Structural Funds are used to support the rights of people with disabilities, rather than restrict them. Specifically, the EU Funds for Our Rights Campaign is focusing on the role of Structural Funds in supporting the right to live independently and being included in the community, set out in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The campaign is supported by the Open Society Foundations – Mental Health Initiative.
Why the campaign?
Having monitored the use of Structural Funds since 2007, ENIL-ECCL (European Coalition for Community Living) have reported that between 2007 and 2013, more than 150 million EUR were invested into renovating or building new institutions for persons with disabilities in Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and the Slovak Republic. We also know that Structural Funds were invested into institutional care during the same period in the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Poland. Such use of funding is particularly problematic if we take into consideration the signiﬁcant barriers disabled people in these countries, and across the EU, face when it comes to independent living and being included in the community.
Although Structural Funds Regulations have changed and the Member States are no longer allowed to build large long-stay residential institutions, we know that, in the current programming period, countries are still investing into services which retain institutional culture, perpetuate segregation and fail to provide children and adults with disabilities with opportunities to grow up in a family, and to decide where, with whom and how they wish to live their lives.
The timing of the campaign is right for a number of reasons:
- The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (‘CRPD Committee’), which monitors implementation of the CRPD, recently expressed its concerns that Structural Funds have been used to finance institutions in the EU, in violation of the right to independent living. It has issued recommendations to the EU, outlining that, to comply with its obligations on the right to independent living, the EU must take a number of actions. These include: offering proper guidance to national authorities, improving the way Structural Funds are monitored, and using its powers to apply financial corrections, or interrupt or suspend payments to Member States when they violate the CRPD.
- As part of her own initiative into the use of Structural Funds, the European Ombudsman issued guidelines to the European Commission on how to ensure investments are in line with the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. One of the guidelines focuses on the monitoring and complaints system, and has asked the European Commission to ensure these are ‘adequate and efficient’.
- As we are nearing the middle of the current programming period (and the mid-term review), the European Commission is starting to work on the next set of Structural Funds Regulations covering 2021 – 2028. It is important to ensure that the future regulations are better able to respond to the ongoing challenges and reflect the recommendations by the CRPD Committee and the European Ombudsman.
What do we want to achieve?
The objective of the EU Funds for Our Rights Campaign is to encourage Member States to efficiently spend Structural Funds designated for the ‘transition from institutional to community-based care’ and to ensure that there is a proper monitoring and complaints system in place to prevent Structural Funds from going into services which continue to institutionalise disabled people.
Short term objective: ENIL will support local and national organisations advocating for the rights of disabled people and encourage them to highlight examples where Structural Funds are used to support institutions for disabled people and children with disabilities. These can be large institutions, or small ones – such as group homes and family-type homes. Together, we will raise awareness about the cases where Structural Funds are still being used in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (‘CRPD’) among the European Commission officials, Members of the European Parliament and the Member States.
Long term objective: ENIL will propose improvements to the monitoring and complaints system for the Structural Funds, with a view to ensuring that the European Commission is able to prevent and sanction all investments into institutional care. We will work towards getting these amendments into the Structural Funds Regulations for the next financing period 2021-2028.
Which activities are we planning?
Providing evidence: We will encourage organisations at local and national level to report when Structural Funds are used in violation of Article 19 of the CRPD, or in the case of children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Their reports will be shared on social media and our website as they come in, and we will notify the European Commission.
Awareness raising: We will raise awareness – through organisation of meetings and events – among the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Member States representatives in Brussels, and all the other relevant stakeholders on the importance of a monitoring and complaints mechanism that is able to ensure full respect of fundamental rights of disabled people.
Practical solutions: Based on the lessons learnt since 2007, we will suggest to the European Commission how to set up a monitoring and complaints system that will work for disabled people and other groups, and that can prevent Structural Funds from going into projects that perpetuate the social exclusion of already marginalised groups of people.
Building capacity: We understand that many organisations at local or national level are unable to monitor Structural Funds use because they lack knowledge or capacity. We will share our experience of monitoring Structural Funds use through workshops and webinars, in order to improve the capacity of local and national organisations – particularly user-led organisations and self-advocates – to monitor investments in their regions and countries.
Building alliances: We will seek to build alliances with organisations monitoring the use of Structural Funds in respect of other groups – such as the Roma or migrants and refugees – to help identify common problems and to propose a monitoring and complaints system that will work for everyone.
How can you join the campaign?
- On Facebook: Report any concerns regarding Structural Funds use on our campaign Facebook page
- It can be about services that are meant to be community-based, but are in fact institutions, about the process of Structural Funds planning, the involvement of NGOs, or other issues. Use hashtags #OurFundsOurRights #IndependentLiving
- On the website: Find out about the latest campaign activities and results on www.enil.eu.
- By getting in touch: Get in touch with ENIL in case you would like to get involved in Structural Funds monitoring, but would like training to be provided by ENIL to your organisation.
- By joining our events: Take part in meetings or events organised as part of the campaign. All the details will be available on the web page dedicated to the campaign.
- Follow us on Twitter: We will be tweeting regularly as ENIL_EU
For more information about the campaign, please contact Natasa Kokic, Campaign Coordinator, at email@example.com