Missed opportunity for the EU to promote de-institutionalisation

15 June 2015
Logos of the organisations consisting the European Expert Group on transition from institutional to community based care

On the 15th June 2015, in the framework of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, policy makers and experts come together in Riga to discuss de-institutionalisation (DI). In view of this timely event, the European Expert Group wishes to reiterate the importance of promoting DI in all European policies and financial instruments. The European Commission’s (EC) recently published 2015 country-specific recommendations (CSRs) on how to best achieve the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Stability and Growth Pact in each Member State is a missed opportunity in this regard.

It is important to ensure that EU policies and financial instruments make a real contribution to the enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities, elderly, children, persons with mental health issues and homeless, who have a right to live independently and be included in the society, and to have the same choice as other persons. They should not be confined to institutional care just because no other choices are available. Similarly, EU policies need to make a tangible contribution to the enjoyment of rights of the child. UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children highlight that poverty should never be a reason for separating children from families and that in alternative care, placement in an institution should always be the last option. That is far from being the case in many EU member states - but EU policies and funds, if used in line with international human rights standards, can help bring about such a transformation. The EEG believes that the 2015 CSRs are a missed opportunity for the European Commission to use the European Semester to promote such a process.

Last year, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared his intention for “Europe to be dedicated to being triple-A on social issues, as much as it is to being triple-A in the financial and economic sense”. The European Expert Group (on Transition from Institutional to Community-Based Care (EEG) expected the European Semester for 2015 to re-balance its economic focus with more attention given to social issues and in particular, to the transition from segregating institutional to community-based care. Tackling the wide-spread prevalence of segregating institutions in Europe and promoting the transition to community-based care and services is an important step towards reaching the EU’s targets to fight poverty and social exclusion, its human rights commitments and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens.

As recently as December 2014 the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Crețu, stated that “there is no alternative to the transition from institutional to community care.” It was thus a significant disappointment to see the lack of reference to this issue in the 2015 CSRs. This could mistakenly give the impression that the European Commission is not committed, when in fact it actively supports the use of European Structural and Investment Funds to close outdated institutions and invest in community based care.

According to Jan Jařab, Regional Representative for Europe of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “ the EU has now become a party to an international human rights instrument, it would be desirable to show that the EU does not treat ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a mere formal act, but as a starting point of a new dynamic development aiming at full inclusion of persons with disabilities, which should be reflected in EU policies, including the European Semester.”

Luk Zelderloo , Secretary General of the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) and co-chair of the EEG, equally expressed his concern over the CSRs’ outcomes, adding that “providing support that allows people to participate in society and enjoy community living requires cross cutting solutions, and therefore it should be tackled by including it in the CSRs. ”

“Hundreds of thousands of children in the EU are locked up in institutional care and the main reason for this is poverty and discrimination. Poverty of families, austerity and lack of political will are important contributing factors. We expected the EU to act more strongly by asking member states to invest in people with support needs, their families and community-based care, says Maria Herczog, Eurochild President and co-chair of the EEG.

The EEG regrets that the country reports and CSRs fail to emphasize the role of public, private and not-for-profit social services, especially at the local level, in addressing social challenges and providing community-based care. For Peter Lambreghts, Board member of the European Network for Independent Living and co-chair of the EEG, “the country reports and CSRs should promote the involvement of the most marginalised groups in planning, implementing and monitoring the expenditure of EU funding used to transfer to community-based support at the national level”.

The European Commission should reinforce its commitment to promote the transition to community-based care by streamlining de-institutionalisation in the European Semester process, in particular in CSRs. Only then, when acknowledging that economic and social considerations go hand in hand, can the EU hope for a “triple A”.

What is the European Expert Group?

The European Expert Group (EEG) on the transition from institutional to community-based care consists of the following organisations: COFACE (Confederation of Family Organisations in the EU), EASPD (European Association of Service Providers for People with Disabilities), EDF (European Disability Forum), ENIL/ECCL (European Network on Independent Living/European Coalition for Community Living), ESN (European Social Network), Eurochild, FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless), Inclusion Europe, Lumos, Mental Health Europe, as well as the United Nations‘ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - Regional Office for Europe and UNICEF.

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