On 20th February, our Petition in relation the use of Structural Funds in Bulgaria was discussed by the Petitions (PETI) Committee in the European Parliament. The petition was submitted in 2018 by our member, the Centre for Independent Living (CIL) Sofia in Bulgaria, and has been supported by ENIL, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the Validity Foundation. Since 2018, PETI Committee has asked the European Commission to respond to the petition, and we have had a chance to react to their position.
The petition concerns the planned use of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs) for building group homes for people with disabilities and older people in Bulgaria. This is a follow up phase to the process of deinstitutionalisation for children in Bulgaria between 2007 and 2013. During this process, Bulgaria has built 140 group homes for 1,845 disabled children. These group homes continue to segregate and exclude children from the community. This is illustrated by the fact that the children in these settings cannot access mainstream services like education or transport.
The current phase plans to continue with the construction of smaller size institutions (i.e. group homes) for adults with disabilities and older people. According to the General Comment on Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the right to live independently and to be included in the community), group homes perpetuate disabled people’s exclusion from society and violate their right to live in the community. Such segregated treatment and facilities are also considered to be a prima facie form of discrimination – prohibited under the EU and international law.
Bulgarian lawyer Aneta Genova Mircheva, from the Validity Foundation, Natasa Kokic and Frank Sioen from ENIL, were at the hearing in the PETI Committee to present the petition. After this presentation, during which we showed a video filmed by Disability Rights International about the horrible conditions in some of the group homes for children, a debate followed. Six Members of the European Parliament intervened in support of the petition: Katrin Langensiepen, Mounir Satouri, Radan Kanev, Petar Vitanov, Adam Kosa and Alex Agius Saliba).
The MEPs criticised the use of EU funds for building new institutions and underlined the importance of using EU funds for inclusive, community-based services. During their interventions, MEPs also underlined that according to EU and international legal standards, the Bulgarian model of deinstitutionalisation is in fact re-institutionalisation.
The European Commission was represented by the Head of Unit for Bulgaria at DG Employment and the Deputy Head of Unit for Bulgaria at DG Regio. Both units continue to deny any wrongdoing by the Bulgarian Government or the European Commission, and maintain that the use of EU funds is in line with the CRPD.
Following this hour long discussion, the PETI Committee decided that the petition would stay open. The Committee will ask the Bulgarian Government and the European Commission (once again) for a written explanation of the appropriateness of their actions.