As part of advocacy for better use of Structural Funds in Central and Eastern Europe, the European Network on Independent Living and the Open Society Foundations – Mental Health Initiative held a successful roundtable with representatives of the European Commission, Member States, the European Parliament and the civil society. The meeting, organised on 7 November in Brussels, had as its main objective to provide input into the Draft Briefing on Structural Funds Investments for People with Disabilities: Achieving the Transition from Institutional Care to Community Living. In addition, representatives of the Institute for Public Policy, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and SOCIA – Social Reform Foundation presented the data on the use of Structural Funds in Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
The roundtable first looked at the use of Structural Funds in 2007 – 2013, moving on to the coming programming period 2014 – 2020 and the process of agreeing Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes. With at least €150 million used for the renovation or building of new institutions for persons with disabilities in the last 7 years, it was agreed that steps should be taken now to ensure Member States put in place good strategies and plans which will ensure EU funds are used to develop high quality alternatives to institutional care that promote community living. This is in line with both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as EU legislation and policy (in particular the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Social Investment Package). Many challenges though remain. These range from the lack of political will, the vested interests of the institutions and the local authorities, stigma and public attitudes, the lack of clarity about definitions, poor coordination of the process of deinstitutionalisation and others.
While discussing the practicalities of using Structural Funds for Community living, roundtable participants agreed on two key preconditions:
• Existence of a vision on what is community living and how it can be achieved. In this respect, examples of good practice are needed to show national, regional and local authorities and the European Commission how to practically facilitate community living for people with disabilities, children and older people.
• Guidance on the ‘transition from institutional to community-based care’, which would inform national strategies, Partnership Agreements, Operational Programmes and projects themselves. Emphasis should be in particular on the development of human resources to deliver services in the community. Effective indicators are also needed to monitor progress, and to prevent re-institutionalisation of children and adults with disabilities in smaller institutions.
Three key cross cutting issues in the implementation of Structural Funds were also discussed:
• Participation of civil society at all stages, including people with disabilities themselves: during the needs assessment, the development of projects, in the delivery of services, and in monitoring and evaluation. The need to involve all the stakeholders in the process was highlighted, including the directors and staff of institutions, and representatives of churches and other institutional care providers.
• Attitudinal change. This applies both to the wider public and those directly involved in the process of de-institutionalisation.
• Co-ordination between different EU funds, government departments and different parts of the European Commission. The involvement of the Ministry of Finance, and co-ordination between the social and health policies, was seen as particularly important.
These and additional points will be incorporated into the Briefing, which will be launched on the European Day of People with Disabilities on 3 December 2013, and will be available from www.enil.eu
ENIL and OSI-MHI thank everyone who participated in the roundtable on 7 November for their valuable contribution.