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European Commission partial answers

This is the full, official EC position, to my questions regarding social policy (answers received August). However, the Commission avoided answering another set of questions, regarding enlargement (see the list at the end).

Is the European Commission aware of the present appalling human rights violations and numerous cases of inhuman and degrading treatment in institutions for adults with mental disabilities or psychiatric disorders in Bulgaria and Romania?

The Commission is fully aware of the current problems in Bulgarian and Romanian institutions for people suffering from a range of disabilities. Although the Bulgarian and Romanian governments are directly responsible for managing these institutions and the EU is not able to investigate the situations of individuals, significant EU support was given to both countries, in particular to help improve the situation of children in care homes, in the run-up to both countries joining the EU. In cooperation with the Bulgarian and Romanian authorities, substantial progress has been made, but the Commission is aware that still more remains to be done.

As institutional care is not simply a social policy issue – it is about human rights more widely – what is the EC doing about the human rights situation in institutions in Bulgaria and Romania? What more could be done to achieve better results?

The European Community and all its Member States, including Bulgaria and Romania, have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.  The Convention is a legally-binding instrument that changes the approach to disability. It clearly states the human rights approach and includes measures to fully implement these rights in practice.

More generally, the Commission makes efforts to promote independent living in the community as an alternative to institutions, and EU funding for disability programmes is allocated accordingly. Institutional care in the EU is often of unacceptably poor quality  and a recent Commission study[1] shows that community-based services, when properly established and managed, can deliver better outcomes in terms of quality of life and enable disabled people to live as full citizens[2]. Services in the community are not more expensive than institutional care once the needs of residents and quality of care are taken into account in calculating the costs. The European Social Fund (ESF) is one tool the EU uses to help improve the life of disabled people.

The Commission will continue its efforts to improve the situation of institutional care across the European Union, including in Bulgaria and Romania.

A month ago the BBC reported that “the European Commission has warned Greece that if it does not come up with a road map for psychiatric reform by next month, EU funding will be cut from social projects across the board.” Does this mean that once the human rights abuses in adult institutions in Bulgaria and Romania are made public, cutting EU funding will be one of the possible measures to be undertaken, if one or both governments fail to take immediate action and to show commitment to a real reform?

First, allow me to clarify the situation in Greece before talking about Romania and Bulgaria.  The Commission and the Greek authorities reached an agreement on 6-7 April on the occasion of Commissioner’s Špidla’s visit to Greece. In this agreement, Greece commits itself to follow-up the psychiatric reform in Greece andits financial obligation towards the Mental Health Structures co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF). The Commission will closely monitor the situation. If the Greek authorities do not fulfil their commitments, the Commission will consider launching a suspension procedure in the framework of the ESF programme concerned.

With respect to Bulgaria, the Commission has agreed the policies to be co-financed by the ESF within the context of the Human Resources Development Operational Programme (HRD OP). Adults currently in institutions form part of the wide-ranging target groups contained in the operations and projects being delivered under the programme. Moreover, the Bulgarian authorities are committed to launching a pilot project on de-institutionalisation aimed in particular at children.

Whilst appreciating the various constraints Member States face, including financial, the Commission is particularly anxious to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to change attitudes and the prevailing ‘culture’ on de-institutionalisation. Key to achieving these objectives will be to raise awareness of the issues and the need for better provision of quality services across society. In the case of Romania, the ESF supports actions to improve the quality and effectiveness of services in health and social assistance. The European Commission will closely monitor the implementation of these actions.

There is always a possibility of payments being suspended under the ESF in certain cases, basically serious deficiencies in management, serious irregularities, or a serious breach of obligations under the ESF regulations, in Bulgaria and Romania as well as in Greece. The conditions are defined in more detail in article 92 of the regulation: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:210:0025:0078:EN:PDF.

Since accession, is the Commission financially supporting improving the situation of the mentally disabled and people with psychiatric disorders, and specifically for alternative type of care for adults and de-institutionalization of adults in the two countries mentioned? How much EU funding did Bulgaria and Romania get since 2007 for this, not taking into account specific funding for existing institutions?

In Bulgaria, the ESF co-financed the 2007-2013 HRD OP. It includes a dedicated priority axis on ”Social inclusion and promotion of social economy” with a provisional budget of 170 million EUR.  Within this priority axis, there is a special measure on ”Social services for prevention of social exclusion and overcoming its consequences” aimed at:

– supporting the creation of new and diverse community-based social services

– support for further development of the services provided in the already existing alternative forms

– improving the quality of care provided at the specialised institutions for children and adults

– raising public awareness on the needs of people with disabilities and the disadvantaged

This priority axis targets the beneficiaries of social services in specialised institutions and in the wider community, including: children and adults, people with disabilities, vulnerable ethnic groups (including Roma), elderly people and other groups at risk of social exclusion.

Within the currently-operating grant schemes for ”Social assistance” and ”Domestic assistance” amounting to 22 million EUR (both national budget and EU co-financing), projects are incorporated therein which will reach the mentally disabled and people with psychiatric disorders. However, more precise information on the beneficiaries concerned as well as the amount of the contracts involved can be provided by the Managing Authority responsible for the HRD OP in Bulgaria and/or through the Intermediate Body directly in charge, namely the Agency of Social Protection.

In a wider policy context, and following recommendations from the Commission, the Bulgarian authorities are committed to strengthening and improving the deinstitutionalisation process including for children placed in institutions. To this end, a new Commission initiative with a budget of 20 million EUR is currently being implemented under the HRD OP.

In Romania disabled people can be among the beneficiaries of the Operational Programme for “Human Resource Development” of the ESF. It has a priority dedicated to promoting the social inclusion of vulnerable groups (in general) and people with disability are potentially eligible (among other categories).

Some types of projects financed by the ESF in this area are: increasing access and participation in the job market through the development of specific programmes, the provision of incentives granted to employers to integrate people into the labour market, support for the creation of new jobs in companies, accompanying measures for people in difficulty, developing the concept of social economy.

The financial allocation for the priority “Promoting social inclusion of vulnerable groups” for the period 2007-2013 is 644,007,986 € (540,608,927 € including ESF, the difference being national contribution).

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These were the questions I sent to DG Employment. They concern the current EU policy. They have been answered promptly.

However, there was a different set of questions the EC did not answer. I sent them initially to DG Enlargement – as they mainly concern the pre-accession period of Bulgaria and Romania and the monitoring done then (see the complete list of questions  below). These questions were then transferred on and on, until finally Katharina von Schnurbein, spokesperson for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said that the EC has nothing to add on the issue of mental institutions in Romania and Bulgaria, and that the answers prepared by DG Employment are very comprehensive and cover all my questions, including the ones concerning enlargement.

As you’ll see, this is clearly not the case:

1. Why has the dreadful human rights situation in institutions not been recognized as an obstacle for accession in the case of Bulgaria and Romania, when we have very clear Copenhagen criteria, and there were and continue to be numerous reports about human rights abuses in these institutions?

2. Looking back, how would you assess the pre-accession monitoring of the EC in terms of mental institutions?  Do you think the EC had a realistic understanding of the situation in these institutions at the time of accession?

3. Does the EC see the need to require a better human-rights track-record from future Member States? Better than in the case of Bulgaria and Romania that is.

4. Today, in terms of institutions for children and adults with disabilities – what human rights standards should a country meet, in order to join?


[1] http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/index/7002_en.html

[2] See also http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/08/102&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

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