On 29 January 2020, the European Commission published its 2020 workplan. ENIL has analysed it and decided to highlight some of the most promising initiatives in the area of social policy. Please read on for an overview of what to expect from the EU’s social front this and next year.
Remember the European Pillar of Social Rights? A hint: think of the time when Corona was still only a beer….. Yes? Well, now the Pillar is back!
In 2017, the Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission ‘proclaimed’ The European Pillar of Social Rights. While the Pillar in itself is not a binding document, it is indicative of a commitment by the Member States and the EU institutions to move towards a more inclusive Europe. ENIL asked for a Pillar with impact and it seems our patience has been rewarded, as the Pillar will now be the basis for social initiatives in the Commission’s work plan for 2020-2021. Another important European initiative is, of course, the European Green Deal and the promise to make the shift to a climate neutral Europe just and inclusive. Noteworthy initiatives in this regard will be the ongoing revision of the plane and train passenger rights.
To start off in good spirit, the Commission has launched a webpage where you can give your view on what is needed on a European, but also national and local level, to achieve an inclusive and just European transition. Until 30 November 2020 you can share you view or specific input on an initiative via this survey.
The use of EU Funds will remain one of the key focus areas for ENIL. When we look at the Commission’s workplan, we are particularly interested in the following three initiatives:
A new Strategy for the Implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights
The Commission announced a new (non-binding) strategy for the implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. While the main focus will be on the rule of law, ENIL is curious to see how the strategy will approach Articles 21 (non-discrimination) and 26 (Integration of persons with disabilities) of the Charter. Implementation of Article 26, which states that “The Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence […] and participation in the life of the community” is key to ensuring that European initiatives and EU Funds are never, not even in the short term, used to support the segregation of disabled people.
New European budget and European Funds regulations (in particular ESF)
Currently, the European Council (heads of states and governments) is debating the next European Budget, or as they call it, the Multi Annual Financial Framework (MFF). These negotiations will end with an agreement on the European Union’s budget for 2021-2027. For the moment, the negotiations are still ongoing and since the European heads of state and governments are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, they might still take a while.
One of the most important aspects of the MFF for ENIL is the amount of money that will go to the European Social Fund (ESF). ENIL has been working very hard to make sure that the new ESF+ regulation, which will lay down the rules on how the ESF can be invested, clearly prohibits investments in institutional care. Currently, ESF+ regulation refers to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Fundamental Rights Charter, and also commits to supporting deinstitutionalisation:
‘The Member States and the Commission shall also support… actions to promote…the transition from institutional care to family and community-based care.’
For the moment, the negotiations about the final ESF+ regulation between the Council (national ministers of finance) and the European Parliament are still ongoing. That said, a deal on the MFF is needed to enable a final compromise on the ESF+ regulation.
ENIL will continue to follow the developments and, once the new ESF+ regulation is adopted, we will of course continue our campaign to monitor the use of EU Funds in the Member States and try to prevent investments in segregation.
As a follow-up to the Juncker plan, which aimed to mobilise private money for social investment in the EU, the Commission will propose this year an InvestEU regulation. The principle of InvestEU remains the same: private companies and banks are encouraged to invest in social initiatives and the EU guarantees the loans, to make sure bank will agree to lending the money. The regulation for InvestEU will be one of the first Commission proposals once the MFF is adopted.
In this respect, it is important to make sure that the rules for the ESF and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), outlined above, also apply to InvestEU. Otherwise, InvestEU will be a very easy backdoor for Member States to continue investing in institutions.
The European Semester
Now that the schools are closed, we present you another old acquaintance to dive into: the European Semester.
Every year around November – December, the Commission publishes the Annual Growth Survey (AGS) or, as it was called this year, the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy. In February – March, the Commission then publishes Country Reports, to analyse the economic and social situation in the different Member States.
The European Disability Forum (EDF) made an overview of how disability issues are covered in the Country reports of the different Member States this year. This overview shows that deinstitutionalisation is mentioned as a topic in many of the reports. This in itself is a positive development, but some issues remain.
Firstly, in some reports, deinstitutionalisation remains completely absent. This is, for example, the case for France, despite the fact that thousands of disabled people remain in institutions and that their numbers are growing. Also, while the French report mentions education and training for disabled people, it does not go into the issue of inclusive education as a standard.
Secondly, in other country reports, such as those for Bulgaria and Belgium, the Commission acknowledges progress, while at the same time emphasising that there is still a lot of work to be done. The problem is that not all the progress mentioned in the reports is actually progress. For example, the report for Bulgaria states that ‘All specialised institutions for children with disabilities have been closed down’ while we know that large institutions have been replaced by Small Group Homes, which continue to operate as institutions.
These shortcomings are partly understandable, because the European Semester is, in the first place, and economic instrument aimed at monitoring the countries’ debt and financial situation.
On 17 February 2020, the Commission organised a conference to present the Child Guarantee feasibility study. This study analyses the possibility and need for an EU-level fund or policy to ensure that all children have access to basic services like healthcare, childcare, education, food and housing. Deinstitutionalisation is also mentioned in the report, as a prerequisite to ensure effective access to these services.
At the end of the conference, there was an agreement that the EU and national policy makers should work together to address this issue within their competences. This is why the suggested way forward was to work on both a Council recommendation and a Commission proposal for the Child Guarantee, to ensure that national and European competences reinforce each other. For the moment the Commission plans to publish the first proposals around the child guarantee in the first months of 2021.
Together with the ENIL Youth Network, we will also follow-up other initiatives in this field like the European Action Plan on integration and inclusion and the plan to reinforce the Youth Guarantee , which will both be proposed by the end of this year.
Personal Assistance (PA)
Personal Assistance will remain the Holy Grail for European Funding. ENIL will continue to raise awareness on PA both among the European institutions and national Governments. To do this, we will focus on research and training, collecting personal experiences and good practices, and including PA in European initiatives focused on working conditions. In this article, we will focus on the last part, as it is most linked to the workplan of the Commission. We will update you on our plans for PA research, training and the collection of good practices in the April newsletter.
Including PA in European initiatives dealing with working conditions
A “legal instrument” on fair minimum wages for workers in the EU will be one of the most important social proposals of the Commission in 2020. Currently, the Commission already published a consultation document for social partners on this subject. Based on this consultation, the Commission will put forward a proposal by the end of the year. The aim of the initiative is not to have the same minimum wage everywhere (the EU does not have the competence to impose this), but rather to agree across all Member States that whatever their national, regional or sectoral minimum wage is, people should be able to live a decent life with it (which includes being able to access the areas and services listed in the Social Pillar).
Given that Member States are not always keen on cooperating in the social field, the legislative process to adopt this proposal could be very long. Nevertheless, it is important for ENIL to keep an eye on it, to make sure that PAs are included in the legislation. To allow a PA system to support Independent Living, being a PA needs to be a good and adequately paid job. For the moment, this is not yet the case in all EU countries. Perhaps this new EU initiative on minimum wages can be the first step in improving the working conditions and career paths for PAs.
European Disability Strategy
The current European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 will come to an end at the end of this year. However, there is no need to be sad, as the Commission has already announced a follow-up disability strategy after 2020.
For the moment, the current Strategy is under evaluation. In June – July 2020, the Commission will present the first draft for a post 2020 strategy. This will be followed by a public consultation, where everyone will be able to provide feedback. The aim is to have a new strategy adopted by April 2021.
We will keep you updated on the developments and look forward to your input for an ambitious post 2020 Disability Strategy.
Freedom of Movement
Last year, during the Freedom Drive, ENIL presented a report on Freedom of movement for disabled people in the EU. We will continue working on this issue in several ways.
Regulation on the coordination of social security systems
In 2016, the Commission published a proposal to modernize the regulation on social security coordination in the EU. This regulation has the potential to coordinate access to (some) support and facilitate the recognition of disability status across Member States. During the last Parliamentary term, the Parliament and the Council (national ministers) failed to reach an agreement on this regulation. The good news is that it is again in the Commission’s workplan for this year. This means that the Commision will encourage the Parliament and the Council to continue their work on the Regulation.
Of course, many Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have changed. In order to inform them about the significance of this Regulation for disabled people, ENIL will again work together with different disability NGOs to inform the Parliament and propose clear and unified amendments to the regulation.
Mobility in Erasmus+
ENIL will continue to promote the freedom of movement and mobility within the Erasmus+ framework. For the moment, the negotiations on the new Erasmus+ Framework between the European Parliament and the Council (national ministers of Education, Youth and Sport) are on hold until there is an agreement on the new MFF. In any case, ENIL is unable to influence the negotiations at this stage (the parameters were set between 2017-2019). Nevertheless, we will continue our work to demonstrate the need for an inclusive Erasmus+ programme in several ways.
First of all, we will continue to host European Solidarity Corps (ESC) volunteers. This will both prove the feasibility of an inclusive ESC programme and also show the barriers which still exist.
Secondly, within the Inclusive Mobility Alliance, ENIL will continue to advocate for an inclusive Erasmus+ programme. We will do this by promoting the Alliance recommendations in the negotiations about the next Erasmus+ programme.
Another important project of the Alliance is the planed update of the mapped.eu website into a new inclusive mobility.eu website. This project is coordinated by SIHO, the agency for inclusive education in Flanders.
The inclusive mobility website will build on the information of the MAPPED website about accessibility in different European universities and make it more dynamic. The goal is to bring in testimonies, combined with practical information around access to support in a country and university. This way, people who plan to study abroad will be able to go to the website to find first-hand information on accessibility and support services in a country, together with the contact details of the relevant departments (housing, student support, etc.) of the universities.
Last year, the project started with a survey which SIHO sent to governments, universities and disability NGOs (several ENIL members participated in the survey, so thank you!). This year, the Alliance will support SIHO with the analysis of the survey results. This will give us an initial overview of the accessibility of European universities, taking into account access to national or regional support services, support offered by universities and the personal experience of disabled students.