On 15 and 16 February, ENIL’s Advocacy Officer Frank Sioen attended the Bulgarian Presidency Conference ‘Investing in people – the way forward’ in Sofia, Bulgaria. Until June, Bulgaria will hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. The aim of the conference was to exchange ideas between policy makers and civil society organisations about the next EU budget. In particular, how the EU’s social goals will be funded after 2020.
The conference consisted of several plenary debates, but also included interactive workshops. For ENIL, the most interesting workshop was the one on Social Inclusion. This workshop focused on two main themes: tackling poverty and deinstitutionalisation. At the beginning of the workshop, the Bulgarian representatives presented the process of deinstitutionalisation of children. While this reform has achieved the closure of all ‘special institutions’ for disabled children, ENIL does not consider it a good example of deinstitutionalisation. This is because disabled children were moved into ‘small groups homes’, where the way they are cared for is not very different from when they were in the large institutions. At the same time, there was not enough investment into mainstream community-based services, which would enable disabled children to live in families and go to school.
Participants in the workshop agreed that deinstitutionalisation is the way forward. They emphasized the need for continued investment of EU funding in the transition from institutional care to community living, and a good monitoring system to make sure that EU funds consistently support deinstitutionalisation.
Overall, there was too much emphasis during the conference on the need to get people into employment. There was not enough discussion about the need to invest in people, in order to make sure that every EU citizen can fully participate in society, including by being able to study and work. However, it is positive that deinstitutionalisation has remained high on the European Council’s agenda, after last year’s Council Conclusions on independent living. We hope that the next EU budget, together with the regulations, will reflect this commitment and that deinstitutionalisation will remain an investment priority for the European Union.