NGOs Take European Commission to Court for Funding Segregation of Disabled Persons in Bulgaria
PRESS RELEASE – For immediate release (български)
For the first time in history, three disability rights organisations have initiated Court proceedings against the European Commission for failing to halt EU infrastructure funding being used by Bulgaria to build institutions for persons with disabilities. Case T-613/19, pending before the EU General Court in Luxembourg, challenges the Decision of the European Commission not to suspend EU funding to Bulgaria.
Earlier this year, the European Network on Independent Living (“ENIL”), Validity Foundation (“Validity”) and the Center for Independent Living (“CIL”) called on the Bulgarian Government to immediately suspend a programme which will channel European Structural and Investment Funds (“ESI Funds”) into the building of a large number of institutions for people with disabilities and older people. Despite Bulgaria’s stated commitment to deinstitutionalisation, this investment will see large institutions replaced with smaller ones, without addressing the deeply ingrained discrimination, social exclusion and segregation of these groups. Having failed to get the suspension by the Managing Authorities, the applicants turned to the European Commission to suspend EU funding to Bulgaria, to ensure compliance with the EU and Bulgaria’s joint obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“UN CRPD”). The Commission decided not to do so, so that the organisations had no option left but to address the Court.
The case seeks annulment of the European Commission’s refusal to interrupt payment deadlines or suspend payments associated with the Call for Proposals BG16RFOP001-5.002 “Support for the deinstitutionalisation of services for elderly people and people with disabilities” under Priority Axis 5 “Regional social infrastructure” of Operational Programme “Regions in Growth”. The three organisations are supported by Covington & Burling LLP.
Ines Bulic Cojocariu, Deputy Director of ENIL, stated: “The regulations on the use ESI Funds, combined with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the CRPD, provide the Commission with a strong legal basis to intervene when EU Funds are used to discriminate against disabled citizens. It is not acceptable for the Commission to allow Member States to use EU funds in ways contrary to the CRPD.”
Kapka Panayotova, the Director of CIL Sofia, highlighted why institutions funded by the EU in Bulgaria are not in line with the Convention: “Article 19 of the Convention sets out characteristics of institutional care settings, which include the loss personal choice and autonomy as a result of the imposition of certain life and living arrangements. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities warned Bulgaria in October 2018 that moving people from large institutions into smaller buildings is not in line with Article 19.”
Steven Allen, Co-Executive Director, Validity stated: “Segregating people with disabilities violates human rights and conflicts with the core values of the European Union, yet a number of EU countries are investing vast amounts of EU funding in precisely this way. The European Commission has a critical role to play in preventing segregation and providing redress to people who have already been affected.”
Notes to editors:
Funding under the Call for Proposals BG16RFOP001-5.002 “Support for the deinstitutionalisation of services for elderly people and people with disabilities”, which amounts to nearly 18 million Euros, will be used for the building, renovation, furnishing and equipment of 6 day-care centres and 68 care homes for older people and people with disabilities, including people with mental health problems, intellectual disabilities and people with dementia. The funds will go to 29 municipalities, with each set to build up to 9 new facilities. In one such municipality, Dryanovo, a large institution for 100 women with disabilities will be replaced will 7 new care homes, all of which will be located within this small town of less than 8,000 inhabitants. Rather than being offered support to live in the community, those affected will face continued institutionalisation, funded by the EU.
For additional information, see:
- Petition to the European Parliament concerning the use of the European Structural and Investment Funds to support deinstitutionalisation of people with disabilities in Bulgaria
About ENIL, Validity and CIL Sofia:
The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) is a Europe-wide network of disabled people, with members throughout Europe. ENIL’s vision is of Europe where all disabled people are able to exercise choice and control over their lives, on an equal level with others; where they are valued members of the community and can enjoy all of their human rights, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). ENIL’s mission is to advocate and lobby for Independent Living values, principles and practices, namely for a barrier-free environment, provision of personal assistance support and adequate technical aids, together making full citizenship of disabled people possible. For more information, please see: www.enil.eu
Validity is an international non-governmental organisation which deploys legal strategies to promote, protect and defend the human of rights of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. Established in 2002, Validity is headquartered in Budapest, Hungary, and works with a network of human rights litigators and defenders across Europe and Africa to conduct strategic litigation to promote systemic reforms. For more information, visit www.validity.ngo.
CIL Sofia is a Bulgarian advocacy organisation run and controlled by disabled people established in 1995 to promote the values of Independent Living among disabled Bulgarians, Bulgarian authorities and policy decision makers. Vision and mission of the Centre target the policy process aiming at social inclusion of disabled people through accessibility of the mainstream environment, provision of personal assistance and peer support, as well as accessible and affordable public services. CIL is among the highly respected and active disability organisations in Bulgaria and abroad. For more information, please visit: www.cil.bg