On 12 – 13 October, the Estonian Presidency organised the conference “Dignity + Independent Living = DI”. Held in Tallin, Estonia, its aims were: to discuss ways to accelerate the transition from institutional care to community living in the EU; to propose new approaches on how to fund deinstitutionalisation; to support the development of the EU-wide framework of participatory social welfare policies; and to provide input to the draft Council Conclusions on deinstitutionalisation, to be presented for adoption by EPSCO (Employment, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Affairs Council) in December 2017.
The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) participated in the planning of the conference through the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG) and was represented by Jamie Bolling, Natasa Kokic and Ines Bulic Cojocariu.
The conference brought together an estimated 100+ participants from the relevant government departments in the Members States, the national CSOs and the EU-level organisations. The European Commission was represented by Emmanuelle Grange, the Head of the Disability Unit, Loris di Pietrantonio, the Head of the ESF and FEAD Funds and Andriana Sukova-Tosheva, the Director of the Investment Directorate – all from DG Employment. The EU Fundamental Rights Agency was also present and used the opportunity to launch three new reports on Independent Living.
The key speeches during the conference, from ENIL’s perspective, were those of Prof. Gerard Quinn and Jan Jarab, the former UN OHCHR regional representative in Brussels, who was the official rapporteur. Both speakers focused on the worrying trend of trans-institutionalisation in the EU – a practice of closing down large institutions for disabled people and replacing them with smaller units, which continue to preserve institutional culture. They pointed out that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the recently adopted General Comment on Article 19, are clear on this point; that continued institutionalisation, albeit in small and modern facilities, is not in line with progressive realisation required by the Convention. ENIL has been campaigning on this issue for many years and has published a Disability Watchdog on Estonia, on the occasion of the conference, which is another example of this unacceptable practice.
In his conference report, Jan Jarab mentioned further risks – the investment of national funds into institutions, to get around the prohibition of the EU Funds use for the same purpose, and the lack of clarity about alternatives to institutional care. These are, in no small part, due to the strong care industry, whose interests clash with the rights of the service users.
Despite criticising Estonia for its own approach to ‘deinstitutionalisation’, ENIL welcomes its Government’s willingness to include this issue on the Presidency Agenda, and to push for the Council Conclusions on deinstitutionalisation. It is key, however, that the risks and solutions presented at the conference, make its way into the conclusions. Equally, they must be followed by effective tools and mechanisms at EU level, to make sure that the Member States put their hands (and money) where their mouth is. As was highlighted at the conference (though not nearly enough), asking for more patience is an insult to those people wasting away in Europe’s institutions.
For more information about the conference, the video recordings and some of the presentations, please follow this link.