The European Structural and Investment Funds aimed at persons with disabilities should be more accessible, transparent and flexible

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Despite improvement made during recent years, there is a need for a stronger control mechanism for the funds, the EESC says

Access to information, more flexibility, transparency and control mechanisms are the main issues to be tackled when analysing the use of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), concluded the participants at the public hearing on 'Reviewing the 2014-2020 ESIF Regulations in favour of persons with disabilities and their representative organisations', held at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on 13 December in Brussels.

In her opening remarks, Irena Petraitienė, Chair of the EESC Permanent Study Group on Disability Rights, said that "our objective is to discuss how we can use European Funds for the benefit of persons with disabilities and their representative' organisations".

She recalled the importance of this topic and celebrated the fact that "persons with disabilities are actively fighting for their rights".

In that line, Ioannis Vardakastanis, rapporteur for the EESC opinion on 'Structural Funds General Provisions', stressed the importance of accessibility for both physical and digital environments and of increasing the "effectiveness" of the current 2014-2020 programme: "Funding should always have a practical purpose", he insisted.  

The discussion was divided into three panels, focusing on the following topics:

  • Which results have been achieved for the inclusion of persons with disabilities with the help of ESIF so far?
  • How to implement the partnership principle for a better use of ESIF?
  • Good practices in the use of funds.

The representatives from different organisations highlighted the main problems still faced by persons with disabilities in the European Union (EU), as well as the difficulties which are often caused by divergent policies between the EU and the Member States.   

The process of 'deinstitutionalisation'

Another major issue discussed was the so-called process of 'deinstitutionalisation', or the gradual relocation of residents from large long -term care institutions to community-based services, in order to close the former residences and support the integration of persons with disabilities in their communities.

Available data show that 10% of residents living in institutions commit suicide. Moreover, living in an institution implies a restriction on individual freedom and violates the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which the EU signed in 2010 and is legally binding for the EU and its Members States.   

"Targeted investments in existing large residential institutions can be justified only as transitional measures within the context of a strategy on shift to community-based services", defended Andor Urmos, from the Unit of Inclusive Growth, Urban and Territorial Development in the European Commission (EC).

In fact, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) currently supports social, health, education and housing infrastructure, small group homes, assisted housing and other accessibility measures (such as access to high-quality services in the community), in order to facilitate the shift from institutional to community-based services.

European funds make up 40% of the whole budget in some EU countries, according to Linas Lasiauskas, from the Permanent Study Group on Disability Rights (EESC), which gives an idea of the importance of this funding.

More representation in the decision making process

Participants and speakers also stressed the key role of the organisations representing persons with disabilities and the importance of their involvement in each stage of ESIF management. This call was supported by Ms Petraitienė. Organisations representing persons with disabilities have to be involved in the planning, implementation and monitoring phase in the use of EU funds ", she maintained.