As we schedule our ‘out of office’ replies at the European Network on Independent Living and start counting down to the end of yet another year, I would like to briefly reflect on 2019 and what it meant for us.

Firstly, we will remember this year by turning 30 and taking the first steps into the 4th decade for Europe’s Independent Living movement. We celebrated our birthday in style, with a successful Freedom Drive, which many of you attended. We were loud and proud in the streets of Brussels, demanding freedom and an end to institutions and misplaced investments. Our symbolic cage in front of the European Commission sent a clear message that what happens in many countries must no more be tolerated. During the Freedom Drive, we also elected our new Board and said good-bye to our outgoing President Kapka Panayotova.

In April, we brought to an end another EU-funded project, which made it possible for ENIL to host a researcher for two years. During his fellowship, dr. Teodor Mladenov developed the Personal Assistance Checklist – a useful tool we will continue working with to promote user-led personal assistance.

We celebrated the 6th Independent Living Day on the 5th May, which this year focused on the upcoming European elections. As ENIL, we encouraged disabled people to vote and put forward a strong manifesto with key demands of the Independent Living movement. These demands were not shelved following the elections and will guide our work for the coming 5 years, as we seek to make sure that the new MEPs work to improve the lives of disabled people Europe-wide.

The second part of the year was also eventful. In September, we were able to organise a regional meeting for members in Poland, where our Slovenian members presented their country’s new Personal Assistance law and we discussed deinstitutionalisation and the use of EU Funds.

The same month, with Validity Foundation and CIL Sofia, we launched the first ever case against the European Commission for allowing Bulgaria to use EU Funds to build residential facilities for disabled adults. This case at the General Court in Luxembourg aims to improve implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the EU, specifically in relation to how EU Funds are used. It will be exciting to see how the case develops, but we are grateful to Covington & Burling LLP for representing our organisations on a pro bono basis and making it possible to take the Commission to Court.

Our complaint relating to our core funding at the European Ombudsman was resolved and, unfortunately, the Ombudsman found there was no maladministration by the European Commission. The decision did, however, say that organisations should be provided with complete evaluation reports following their applications. We now await to see the outcome of another complaint, submitted in June, about how EU funds are used in Hungary and Portugal to segregate disabled people in residential facilities.

In conclusion, while this has been a busy and challenging year, the fight continues. We are especially pleased to be working closely with many of our members, who are experiencing first hand the effects of discriminatory policies, austerity and a real push back on human rights. We will continue supporting them in 2020, to the best of our ability, and working together to advance the right to Independent Living for all.

We wish to thank our funders – ULOBA, STIL, GIL and the Open Society Foundations – for their continued support in 2019, as well as our members and supporters. A big thank you also to Lisa Madl, our European Solidarity Corps volunteer, and to Teodor Mladenov, who moved on to other adventures. Finally, thanks to all of you reading our Newsletter and stay tuned – we will announce new exciting projects and plans for 2020 in the January issue.

Finally, on behalf of everyone at ENIL, I would like to wish you happy holidays and may the New Year be kinder to all of us.

Ines Bulic Cojocariu, Deputy Director, ENIL