Last week, on 15 September 2011, around 200 Independent Living activists from 20 European countries met with the Disability Intergroup at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The meeting was a part of the 5th Freedom Drive, organised by the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL).
The main issues on the agenda were cuts in community-based services for people with disabilities, the misuse of the European Union funding for the renovation or building of long-stay institutions for people with disabilities, the lack of choice and control of disabled people over the services available to them and the slow progress towards de-institutionalisation in Europe.
"We are here because we are discriminated against, perceived as objects of charity, not rights", said Freyja Haraldsdottir, a young woman active in the Independent Living movement in Iceland. Referring to the cuts disabled people are facing across Europe, Peter Lambreghts, ENIL's West Regional Team Coordinator, said: "Disabled people are hit hard!" He warned MEPs about the threats to Personal Assistance service, highlighting that austerity measures affecting disabled people's services will cost society more in the long run.
Similar messages were brought to the Parliament by many delegates, with a call for better use of the European Union funding, stronger legal tools to fight discrimination against disabled people, implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a clear position by the European Parliament against institutionalisation of people with disabilities. These and other demands are a part of ENIL's Proposal for a Resolution of the European Parliament on the effect of cuts in public spending on persons with disabilities in the European Union, launched on this occasion. ENIL has urged MEPs to support the Proposal, to result in the Member States' reconsidering and reversing decisions about the cuts to community-based services for people with disabilities.
Members of the Disability Intergroup affirmed their commitment to bring the issues raised at the meeting forward to the European Parliament, the European Commission and Member States. The European Network on Independent Living will continue working with the Intergroup in the two years until the next Freedom Drive, to see that it lives up to its promises.