'No money for EU projects discriminating disabled people'
By Honor Mahony
As the EU nears a deal on its seven-year trillion-euro budget, disability campaigners are fighting to ensure that EU regional funding is only spent on projects that also benefit disabled people.
“It should be outlawed in the EU that any euro cent is used to produce inaccessible situations for persons with disabilities,” Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum (EFD), told this website.
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The biggest gripes are that money from structural funds – aid to EU regions – is spent either on schemes that are inaccessible to disabled people or used to build institutions to house them.
The issue came up at the ‘European Parliament of persons with disabilities’ on Wednesday (5 December) when hundreds travelled to Brussels to debate the most important questions for disabled people in the EU.
Singling out Hungary, Stig Langvad, head of the Danish national disability organisation, asked “is it acceptable that funds are used to dismantle institutions and then build new ones?”
According to Javier Guemes, deputy director of the EDF, it is not only central and eastern European states such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Latvia using EU money to build institutions but also France and the Netherlands.
“The philosophy behind it is a very dangerous one. It has a logic but it is a dangerous one,” Guemes told this website.
He added that member states argue that they are building “better institutions” for disabled people. “But the problem is that this reinforces the focus on institutions.”
Disabled people argue that the emphasis should be on making the environment and society more inclusive rather than excluding them from the community.
The overall size of the 2014-2020 budget is expected to be politically agreed by EU leaders early next year.
But the European Parliament and member states are deep into negotiations on the myriad of laws that govern the spending of the money – including the structural funds, accounting for around a third of the total.
Among the many issues on the table is whether to include a clause attaching non-discrimination conditions to how EU money can be spent in member states.
Governments are not keen on it and have tried to remove it from the original European Commission proposal.
But the parliament is a strong supporter of disability rights.
“There should be ex-ante conditionality for every project” funded by the structural funds, said centre-right Italian MEP Erminia Mazzoni, referring to making the go-ahead for projects conditional on them being user-friendly for disabled people.
The debate marks a lengthy battle for disability campaigners. Pre-2007, there was a clause on disability-friendly use of EU money but it was optional.
In the current spending framework – running until the end of next year – there is a provision on accessibility and funding.
“But”, according to Vardakastanis, “from words to deeds there is a very big gap.”
“The money of the European taxpayer should be used to protect the rights of its citizens. In our case, this has not been done in a way we would like to see.”