EU Ombudsman investigates European funding of disability segregation

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has launched a major investigation into the European Union’s Cohesion Policy, following concerns that substantial funding is being used to breach the fundamental rights of EU citizens with disabilities. MDAC welcomes this broad-ranging investigation, as well as the commitment to involving civil society.

The investigation was been prompted in part following complaints made by MDAC to the Ombudsman that EU funds have been allocated to segregate thousands of people with disabilities into institutions (Hungary and Romania), denying them their right to live in the community with supports.

Emily O'ReillyEmily O'Reilly. Credit: European Union

The Ombudsman is an independent watchdog with the power to investigate EU institutions. In opening an ‘own initiative’ inquiry, Ms. O’Reilly refers to the ‘significant discontent of citizens with the national application of EU cohesion policy, including on the issue of respect for fundamental rights’ and questions the lack of oversight of over 350bn Euros in funding to Member States of the EU.

Commenting on the launch of the inquiry, which coincided with the start of European elections, Ms. O’Reilly stressed that:

"It is key for the credibility of the European Union that, wherever EU money is spent, fundamental rights are respected. In many cases, these funds are supposed to help the most vulnerable members of society. But if, for example, there are complaints that EU money is used to "institutionalise" persons with disabilities instead of helping to integrate them, the Commission clearly needs to ensure the matter is investigated and corrective action taken if needed."


She has asked the European Commission:


  • Why it lacks procedures to suspend or request recovery of money spent by States which breach fundamental rights;
  • Whether arrangements to examine complaints against the spending of Structural Funds are actually effective; and
  • How breaches of fundamental rights are both detected and redressed, if at all.

In a promising sign, Ms. O’Reilly has decided to frame her investigation in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which the EU ‘confirmed’ in 2010.

In Hungary, MDAC discovered that EU funds have been allocated to build and renovate new institutions which will segregate people with disabilities from the community for the rest of their lives. After continued efforts to hold the Commission to account over this maladministration of EU funds, including a written complaint to the EU Ombudsman in December 2013, the focus of this investigation could expose the way in which EU money is being used to fund ‘trans-institutionalisation’, in breach of Article 19 of the CRPD.

Following shocking images of people with disabilities abused and segregated in Romanian institutions aired on Al Jazeera, MDAC called on the Commission to to establish a reparations fund for people affected. Investigations revealed that over €24million of EU Structural Funds have been used to prop up abusive institutions in the country.

MDAC calls on Ms. O'Reilly to take all measures within her power to stop the European Commission funding the building of new institutions in Hungary, and to end the funding of institutions in Romania. We are also calling for compensation and reparations for victims of misspent EU funds.

The situation in Hungary and Romania is merely the tip of the iceberg. By requiring the Commission to answer for a lack of redress for breaches of fundamental rights, The Ombudsman's inquiry could provide a real opportunity for the voices of victims to be heard. MDAC stands ready to assist.

You can read the letter sent by the Ombudsman to the Commission here. The Commission must respond by 30 September 2014.

Tack action: click here to support MDAC's call for the European Commission to stop fundings segregation and compensate victims in Romania.

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