On the 2 May 2018, the European Commission released its proposed Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027. The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) have until now paved the way for stronger social cohesion throughout the EU, not least for persons with disabilities. It is therefore crucial to monitor the funding made available as well as the modalities of its allocation in the coming months leading to the adoption of the future EU budget.
According to this initial proposal of the MFF, cohesion policy will be cut by approximately 7%, it is disappointing to see such a drop, however the part of the funding earmarked for social inclusion is foreseen to increase. For the next long-term EU budget, the Commission proposes “to further strengthen the Union’s social dimension with a renewed European Social Fund, the ‘European Social Fund Plus’ (ESF+)”. For the 2021-2027 period, the Commission proposes to allocate €101.2 billion in current prices from the EU budget to the ESF+. Hence, the share of the ESF+ from the overall Cohesion Policy budget would increase from the current actual share of 23% of the Structural Funds to 27%.
Horizontal conditions to foster the respect of the rights of persons with disabilities
The EU budget, that supports social cohesion, is key to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Indeed, the EU funding is currently allocated to beneficiaries following specific conditions, called the “ex-ante conditionalities”. These conditions request to implement the UNCRPD. Accordingly, ESIF currently crucially supports deinstitutionalisation efforts and the transition to community-based services for people with disabilities. No funds should go towards big institutions that are not in line with the UNCRPD.
In the next period, it is positive to note that the Commission has announced that the “enabling conditions” will continue the approach of the ex-ante conditionalities introduced for the 2014-2020 funding period. They include four horizontal enabling conditions in the area of public procurement, state aid and in relation to the application of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UNCRPD.
Implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights
The scope of support for the proposed ESF+ is aligned with the European Pillar of Social Rights. Initial analysis of first elements by the Social Platform highlights that the designation of at least 25% of ESF+ to social inclusion measures is an important commitment to a more social Europe. We also positively observe the earmarking for youth employment based on improved social indicators and a wider age range as basis for allocation, along with adequate references to the UNCPRD, family- and community-based care, work-life balance, and equal access to services. A clear reference to achieving the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, citing relevant Council Conclusions on the subject in exactly the same place currently occupied by the Europe 2020 strategy, is an uplifting point.
How the budget will be approved
The Commission has presented detailed proposals for the future sector-specific financial programmes to the Council (formed by the heads, government representatives or ministry representatives from each EU Member State), after consent by the European Parliament.
On the 30 May, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted on a plenary resolution assessing the proposal for the 2021-2027 MFF. During debate, MEPs underlined that they wanted to maintain the financing of cohesion policy for the EU-27 at least at the level of the 2014-2020 budget in real terms and criticised the Commission’s decision to reduce it. They also agreed that the European Parliament’s position on the MFF in negotiations will call for the mainstreaming of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
It is now the Council’s turn to agree its position on the next MFF. MEPs have called for talks with the Council and Commission to start without delay, to try to reach an agreement before the next European Parliament elections. The European Commission is also aiming to get the MFF approved before the next European Parliament elections in May 2019. The budget must be agreed unanimously by the Council, only after being given the go-ahead by the European Parliament.
What are the new enabling conditions?
The ‘enabling conditions’ continue the approach of the ex-ante conditionalities introduced for the 2014-2020 funding period. There are some 20 conditions proposed, which correspond to roughly half of the number of conditionalities in the previous period. They cover similar thematic areas as in 2014-2020, like energy efficiency, and still include smart specialisation strategies to guide investments in research and innovation.
There are also four horizontal enabling conditions in the area of public procurement, state aid and in relation to the application of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UNCRPD.