EC Workforum on CRPD implementation 2016
12 Juni 2016 | België, Brussel
From 8 AM on the registration for the conference started in the Charlemagne building, and at 9 AM the opening started with a welcome word by Emmanuelle Grange.
The first speaker was Manuele Geleng, Acting Director of Social Affairs of the European Commission DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inlcusion, who spoke about several recent European developments, such as the adoption of the European Accessibility Act, the midterm review of the European Disability Strategy and the consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights, which show that there is increased attention and cooperation on disability rights at the European level.
Then Geert-Jan Buisman of the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands to the EU, spoke on behalf of the Dutch Presidency of the EU, and he mentioned that it is expected that next week, on Tuesday (14 June), the Netherlands will submit the documents for the Dutch CRPD ratification to the UN Secretary General. That is wonderful news. Finally the Dutch ratification is about to happen. Mr. Buisman stated that the Netherlands had waited so long with the ratification, because they needed time to bring the national legislation in line with the international instruments.
(Personally I know that the Netherlands has made a range of interpretative declarations to the CRPD in order to avoid change, so the claimed Dutch compliance is not so really real, but in fact merely political smooth-talk, but nevertheless, the Dutch ratification of the UN CRPD is a great step forwards for the rights of persons with disabilities in the Netherlands. I was happy to hear the ratification date being mentioned, which coincides with the Conference of State Parties to the UN CRPD in New York next week - a coincidence?? – anyway, I am looking forward to it very much).
The third word of welcome was spoken by Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum (EDF), who reflected on the long way of advocacy by disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) that has led to where we are now. All over Europe, and all over the world, efforts are being made to implement the rights of the UN CRPD, and since the Sustainable Development Goals are not very specific on the UN CRPD, a thorough development agenda for the rights of persons with disabilities is needed, for Europe, but also globally, which is a challenge ahead.
Then the first session started, which focussed on Human rights approach to disability, with 4 speakers and moderated by Ana Pelaez.
First Ana Sofia Antunes, Portugese Secretary of State of Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, spoke about using a human rights approach for the recognition and assessment of disability, which is based on the identification of the real barriers for participation.
Then Charles O’Mahony of NUI Galway (School of Law) spoke about the impact of human rights based approach in Member States’ legislation on Legal Capacity. He explained the Irish law reform and the Irish Assisted Decision Making Act, where the focus has shifted from an incapacity approach that used to deny persons their legal capacity, to providing decision-making support services to enable persons to exercise their legal capacity. The new Irish Assisted Decision Making law doesn’t fully comply with the UN CRPD yet, because it still contains some elements of the old paradigm, but it is a significant improvement, and a great step forwards compared to the old system.
Begona Gosalbez Raull, Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, spoke about aligning human rights agendas: for example of women and disability rights. 60% of persons with disabilities are women, and women with disabilities often face multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination, which needs to be recognized and remedied.
Hanna Ronty of the Finnish Human Rights Centre, spoke about National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and their role and approach in implementing the CRPD. In 13 EU states, the NHRI has the role to monitor the UN CRPD implementation under article 33.2.
After the coffee break, the second session started, which was about Implementation of the CRPD through strategies, with 4 speakers and moderated by Catherine Naughton.
The first speaker was Helga Stevens, Member of the European Parliament. She spoke about the own initiative report that the European Parliament (EP) is preparing (Helga Stevens is the main author). The EP-report serves as an input for the upcoming follow-up report of the European Commission (EC) on the CRPD Concluding Observations to the EU. The EP report will be put to vote in Strasbourg in July.
Then Emmanuelle Grange, Head of Unit Disability and Inclusion of the European Commission DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion spoke about the midterm review process of the European Disability Strategy. The public consultation on the European Disability Strategy got a lot of input, about 1500 respondents, and about 2/3 of the respondents were persons with disabilities and their organizations (DPOs). The answers are now analysed by the EC and turned into proposals, which also have to be checked against the CRPD Concluding Observations (COs) and the EP-own initiative report. The European Disability Strategy was drafted prior to the EUs ratification of the UN CRPD and is therefore not covering all aspects, and could be improved. However, the European Disability Strategy runs till 2020, and with the midterm review, the strategy itself will not be changed, but the aim is to focus on the implementation of the existing strategy, to make it work. After 2020 a new strategy will be put in place, and we can start preparing for that future now already.
Then Wolfram Giese of the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs spoke about the National CRPD Strategy in Germany. In 2015, Germany was reviewed by the UN CRPD Committee and received about 60 recommendations. There is a national focal point for implementation, but also all “lander” (districts or states within Germany) have a focal point. And all of them made a Disability Action Plan based on the Concluding Observations, and sensitive to the local and regional needs. These plans have been submitted for academic evaluation, and it showed there was a need for more emphasis on cross cutting issues, such as awareness and data collection. As a result, 175 new measures have been added to the National Action Plan, and also target have been added to the actions, and 12% of the added measures are related to crosscutting themes which involve different bodies and different levels. A lot of material from Germany is available in English as well.
Marily Christofy of the Greek National Confederation of Disabled People spoke about the involvement of disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) in developing, implementing and monitoring strategy. She spoke about the need for de-institutionalization, and that the European Social Funds (ESF) are a good motivator for change, since there are now “ex ante-conditions” that prohibit to spend European money on initiatives that violate the rights of persons with disabilities, such as institutions. The European Social Funds are provided to help States to fulfil the obligations under the UN CRPD. In Greece there is a working group to coordinate monitoring of the ex-ante conditions for the use of ESF funds.
During the time for debate, I asked Helga Stevens (EP) and Emmanuelle Grange (EC) what is being done in regards of the Guidelines on article 14, which is a significant attachment to the UN CRPD Concluding Observations which were issued to the EU.
The answers were not ambitious: it was said that the EU doesn’t have the competence to make legislation on Liberty, - since that competence is with the Member States- and so the EU “cannot do much” except encouraging and sharing information and good practices. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights is in line with the philosophy of article 14, and doesn’t allow for deprivation of liberty, and treatment against one’s will. The Member States have to implement this, and the EC can encourage, to ensure that the principle isn’t breached.
But I wasn’t really satisfied with that answer, - I just see it differently, since the constitution of the EU mentions a number of core values to be promoted and secured by the EU, including liberty, so it is in fact a duty of the EU to work on issues of liberty, justice, democracy, equality and so on. Helga Stevens then invited me for email communication on this theme.
And then it was lunch time, which lasted 1,5 hours, after which session 3 started on Implementation of CRPD: Social protection and adequate standard of living, moderated by Ima Placencie-Porrero.
Gabor Gombos, on behalf of the Hungarian National Disability Council, gave a very interesting presentation on CRPD article 28 on social protection and adequate standard of living, which is a very real issue in the lives of persons with disabilities. Gabor Gombos explained the normative content of social protection and an adequate standard of living. An adequate standard of living is relevant for all people, and relates for example to food, clothes, housing, continuous improvements of living conditions. The right to social protection relates for example to poverty reduction, and assistance in the form of covering disability related expenses. The distinction is not always clear.
State obligations regarding social, economic and cultural rights are subject to “progressive realization” (progressive in terms of resources) which means that States should use the maximum of available resources to realize these rights, and they should have a plan and a budget, and actions cannot be endlessly delayed , (also see the comments of ICESCR Committee, and the OPERA framework, which is a tool to monitor progressive realization). There should be no retrogression in social protection or standard of living, yet, the recent economic crisis has caused major budget cuts throughout all services, and this disproportionally affects persons with disabilities.
States have the duty to respect, protect and fulfil, which also includes that States should take effective measures in case of violations by non-state actors, such as private actors.
The jurisprudence of ICESCR shows that there is a certain minimum level for acceptable living standards and social protection, “no person will have to live an inhuman life”. This ‘social protection floor’ contains some core elements for a minimum standard of living, such as social benefits. Yet, while non-disabled people can use their benefits for participation and social inclusion, persons with disabilities have additional disability-related expenses, which puts them in a disadvantaged position when it comes to participation and inclusion. Therefore there is now a lot of discussion about a ‘social participation floor’ instead of a social protection floor.
Karina de Beule of the Vlaams Agentschap voor Personen met een Handicap (VAPH) spoke about the shift towards a personal financing system for support for persons with disabilities in Flanders. And to identify the amount of the personal assistance budget, the barriers for participation are identified, as well as the circles of care, which are ranked as follows: 1. Self-care, 2. Family support, 3. Friends providing care, 4. Regular services (e.g. hiring a regular cleaning service) and 5. Specialized services, which are often more expensive. For the levels 1 to 4 there is a basic support budget, which enables access to care at low cost (between 0 and 25 euro). For specialized support, there are personal assistance budgets available. This is a big transition. Instead of funding a few big organizations, the government now finances many people.
Roy Sainsbury, Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED) then shared some statistics, about poverty-risks in various EU countries, about the level of benefits and the level of “generosity” versus “effectiveness in poverty reduction”.
Then Rodolfo Cattani, President of the European Disability Forum (EDF) also shared some statistics, which showed that persons with disabilities are generally 1,5 times more disadvantaged (poverty, discrimination, unemployment) than their nondisabled peers. What is needed is a structured dialogue with DPOs. The term disability “benefits” is not based in the human rights based approach, and neither is the reference to “generosity” by the previous speaker.
Radek Maly, Head of Unit Modernisation of social protection systems, European Commission, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, spoke about the EU Pillar of Social Rights, which is mainly focussed on employment and the labour market, with the aim to “change the social reality for persons with disabilities”.
But I wasn’t happy with the fact that the social rights were narrowed down to employment, - and in my opinion, the title of the tool is wrong (it is more like a EU pillar on work and income).
After a little bit of time for questions and answers, the work forum reached its final session, the closing remarks, and then around 17.00 the meeting ended.
It had been quite an interesting day, although there was very little attention for the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities.
I was happy to hear about the upcoming Dutch CRPD ratification, and also with the invitation for email-communication with Helga Stevens.
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