Tuesday, July 6, 2010

EU Structural Funds - funding exclusion. Oral question in the European Parliament

Mairead McGuinnessThe EU, as signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reflects the core elements – of anti-discrimination, equal opportunities and active inclusion measures – in its own disability strategy.

In March 2010, the Commission was represented at a conference in Brussels hosted by the European Coalition for Community Living which addressed the issue of 'Funding exclusion while promoting inclusion? The use of European Union funding to maintain the institutionalisation of people with disabilities'.

The Commission is aware of the concern among NGOs that European Structural Funds are being used to renovate existing, or build new, long-stay residential institutions for people with disabilities, in contravention of the rights of these citizens.

Given the strong convergence of objectives between the overall EU Disability Strategy and the UN Convention, what action will the Commission take to address this problem and ensure that EU funds are not used in this inappropriate way, but are rather directed towards the provision of community based living for persons with disabilities?

I would like to answer the oral question tabled by Mrs McGuinness by saying that, although the responsibility of organising and administering residential care lies with Member States, the Commission is keen to promote the right of people with disabilities to live independently by supporting services in the community as an alternative to living in institutions.

By the end of this year the Commission will have adopted a European disabilities strategy for the years 2010-20, which will set out a coherent framework for implementing the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disability. Providing support for people with disabilities to live independently and de-institutionalising all the systems will be among the priorities. In particular it will highlight the potential role of the Structural Funds in this regard.

Priorities for the use of Structural Funds are of course set at national and regional level, but the Commission will work with the Member States on the exchange of good practice and guidelines as to how best to use those funds in order to promote the personal autonomy and the right of persons with disabilities to live independently.

I would also like to mention the European Social Fund as an instrument to eliminate the barriers to the participation of people with disabilities as equal members of society. The Social Fund can finance, among other things, counselling, training adapted to the specific needs of people with disabilities, rehabilitation, job creation in sectors such as social economy, special support to promote entrepreneurship among persons with disabilities, and awareness raising campaigns to combat discrimination. It can also provide training and retraining of staff to facilitate the transition from institutional care to community-based services.

The European Regional Development Fund can be used concurrently to develop social infrastructure to support such new services.

In this regard, the Commission has drawn up a tool kit for using the Structural Funds in order to ensure access for, and non-discrimination against, people with disabilities. This tool kit is designed in order to allow the management authorities, the intermediate bodies or the project promoters to prepare, implement, monitor and evaluate the Structural Fund programmes and projects.

Seán Kelly (PPE). - On behalf of Mrs McGuinness, who tabled the question, I thank you for your frank and detailed response. I have just one or two brief questions. Firstly, is the Commission taking any action against those who have used structural funds inappropriately, particularly in the area where we are discussing the provision of facilities for people with disabilities? Secondly, how soon can we actually eliminate such practices, if at all, in the Member States?

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. − If there is a misuse of structural funds in general, the Commission can intervene, but there is of course the primary obligation and responsibility of the Member State in order to bring forward their policy agenda and organise their own social protection systems, including those people in long-term care institutions. The question, of course, is: could we veto it if the Member States are continuing to invest in a different way? You know that the Structural Funds are spent on a system of shared responsibility between the Commission and the Member States. However, it is up to the Member States and their regions to manage the programmes and to implement them by selecting programmes and projects.

Nevertheless, even if we cannot veto, we have already been working together with Member States in order to change the policy in the Member States. For instance, with the Bulgarian Government we have for two years had a cooperative approach under which the government did not use the money in residential institutions, but undertook that no EU funds would be spent on investing in existing residential institutions and that for any investment in these sectors, the principle of de-institutionalisation would be followed.

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