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Document 52011AE1382

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A renewed commitment to a barrier-free Europe’ COM(2010) 636 final

OJ C 376, 22.12.2011, p. 81–86 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

22.12.2011   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 376/81


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A renewed commitment to a barrier-free Europe’

COM(2010) 636 final

2011/C 376/15

Rapporteur: Mr VARDAKASTANIS

On 13 January 2011 the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe

COM(2010) 636 final.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 31 August 2011.

At its 474th plenary session, held on 21 and 22 September 2011 (meeting of 21 September 2011), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 151 votes to none with five abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1   The EESC welcomes the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (EDS) as an active policy instrument to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and the commitments arising from the conclusion of the UN CRPD. It is a formal confirmation by the EU of the UN CRPD recognising its legally binding status. The EESC calls for the EU to take the next and equally important steps of ratifying the Optional Protocol and of ensuring that existing and future secondary legislation respect the UN CRPD. The EESC believes that the UN CRPD sets a clear framework that allows persons with disabilities to contribute to the realisation of their potential if participation and involvement are guaranteed.

1.2   The EESC proposes linking the implementation of the EDS to that of the Europe 2020 Strategy. Member States should include specific targets for persons with disabilities in their National Reform Programmes to measure poverty, employment rates and education.

1.3   The EESC welcomes the European Commission's initiative for an antidiscrimination directive (1) based on Article 19 of the TFEU (2). It calls on Member States and the European Parliament, provided articles on the grant of disability are amended to comply with the UN CRPD, to adopt a strong and appropriate EU legislation that extends the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities beyond the field of employment.

1.4   The EESC stresses the added value of consulting and actively involving disabled people's organisations when developing and implementing legislation and policies pursuant to Article 4(3) of the UN CRPD and Article 11 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). The social partners can also play an important role and should further integrate disability considerations in their negotiations. The EESC calls for the implementation of the Framework Agreement on Inclusive Labour Markets, concluded by the European Social Partners on 25 March 2010, and asks that Member States should adopt specific financial measures to promote collective bargaining on disability issues. It points out that employment policies for people with disabilities must focus on life streaming as a whole, and in particular on lifelong learning (LLL), recruitment, employment continuity and re-employment, maintaining a positive application of State Aid legislation. It also welcomes and encourages the joint actions of trade unions and associations, such as the ETUC/EDF joint conference.

1.5   The EESC believes that a barrier-free Europe must be achieved by adopting a European Accessibility Act, i.e. strong and appropriate binding legislation to ensure persons with disabilities of their rights to freedom of movement and access to goods, services and the built environment. Appropriate and effective enforcement and monitoring mechanisms should be identified both at European and national level.

1.6   The mainstreaming of accessibility will contribute to the EU's competitiveness and economic recovery by creating new markets for assistive goods and services and new jobs. The EESC welcomes the EDS proposal to ensure full accessibility of public sector websites and websites providing basic services to the public by 2015.

1.7   The EESC believes that a European Mobility Card would be a concrete and effective tool to promote the freedom of movement for persons with disabilities by enabling them to access services in the EU. The implementation of the EDS should lead to the adoption of the European Mobility Card to be used in all Member States.

1.8   The EESC calls for human dignity and equality to be respected when designing EU policies. It calls for awareness to be fostered throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities and to fight stereotypes about persons with disabilities in employment, education and other areas. The EESC believes in the added value of EU action to overcome disparities in situations faced by people with disabilities in the Members States, including encouraging all media bodies to promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities. The EESC recommends developing disability indicators to collect consistent data in all areas of a person's life and to monitor the number of citizens with disabilities with a view to achieving the Europe 2020 targets of reducing school drop-out rates, poverty and unemployment.

1.9   The EESC believes that a European Disability Committee is needed to provide structured governance for the EDS and a stronger and more efficient mechanism to coordinate and monitor the European and national implementation of the Convention, pursuant to Article 33(1) of the UN CRPD. The EESC will also constantly evaluate and assess the implementation.

1.10   The EESC denounces the negative impact of the financial crisis on the lives of people with disabilities and their ability to access their rights. It urges support for persons with disabilities in times of crisis and warns against any cuts in social expenditure due to austerity measures. The European Structural Funds and other financial tools should be used to this end and to fund the implementation of the EDS and the UN CRPD. Additional mechanisms are needed, e.g. in relation to the Structural Funds, such as the direct allocation of funding (ringfencing) to actions targeting persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. The future cohesion policy must comply with the UN CRPD. Article 16 of the current regulation must be effectively implemented.

1.11   The EESC affirms that everyone, including persons with psychosocial disabilities, persons in need of more intensive support, children and women with disabilities should fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with others. It recognises and promotes the right to live independently and urges the need to support the transition from institutional to community-based care.

1.12   The EESC recommends that the future Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020 acknowledge the legal status of the EDS and the UN CRPD in the EU and allow funding for its mainstreaming and implementation. The MFF must serve the overarching aims of promoting the fundamental rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities and should invest in promoting anti-discrimination and accessibility.

2.   Introduction

2.1   The communication, adopted by the European Commission in November 2010, represents a fundamental policy instrument for persons with disabilities. The European Disability Strategy (EDS) identifies eight main domains: accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health, and external action. For each area, key actions are planned for the 2010-2015 period, after which new initiatives will be worked out and the strategy revised. The EDS seeks to foster implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and determine the mechanisms for implementing the UN CRPD in EU policy, including within the EU institutions. It also identifies the support needed for funding, research, awareness-raising, statistics and data collection. The communication is accompanied by two important documents: the list of concrete actions planned for 2010-2015 (3); and a working document (4) explaining the strategy in the light of the UN CRPD.

2.2   The EESC calls for the effective implementation of the UN CRPD through the revision and development of European legislation.

2.3   The EESC believes EU policies should reflect the paradigm shift introduced by the UN CRPD from a medical to a human rights perspective and commits itself to applying the social model approach to disability.

2.4   The EESC recommends embracing the UN CRPD statement that persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others (5).

2.5   The EESC firmly believes that every human being has a right to life and emphasises that persons with disabilities share this right on an equal basis with others.

2.6   The EESC denounces the difficult circumstances of persons with disabilities, who are subject to multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, languages, religion or belief, political or other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, age, sexual orientation or any other status.

2.7   The EESC acknowledges that people with disabilities represent around 16 % of the EU population, i.e. 80 million people. They also constitute one-sixth of the EU working population and 75 % of them, who might need intensive support, do not have access to employment. 38 % of persons with disabilities aged 16-34 earn 36 % less than non-disabled persons (6).

2.8   The EESC renews its commitment to promote the equality and inclusion of persons with disabilities as demonstrated in past opinions (7), both in implementing the EDS, the UN CRPD and in EU external actions.

2.9   The EESC calls for effective measures to fight early school leaving, considering that persons with disabilities are twice less likely to reach tertiary education than others.

2.10   The EESC urges the revision of Directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation in order to comply with the UN CRPD. In fact, according to the UN CRPD, in the application and transposition of the directive denial of reasonable accommodation should be considered as a form of discrimination. The EESC calls on the Member States to implement the directive correctly and on the European Commission to adequately monitor its application.

2.11   The EESC supports the use of Structural Funds to achieve economic recovery and build social cohesion (8). Future regulation should maintain non-discrimination and accessibility as horizontal principles and recognise the added value of the participation of organisations of persons with disabilities at each stage of the process (design, implementation, management, evaluation and monitoring). Non-discrimination and accessibility provisions must be strengthened as criteria in the regulation. Article 16 of the current regulation must be strengthened and its implementation and enforcement ensured by the European Commission and the Member States.

2.12   Appropriate financial assistance mechanisms must also be examined (9), such as the direct allocation of funding (ringfencing) to measures targeting people with disabilities (10) and other vulnerable groups in order to focus cohesion policy on relevant priorities (11). The EESC has already recommended that funds target specific objectives related to social inclusion (12). Moreover, in order to ensure the assistance required to implement the principles of the UN CRPD and the EDS, the social inclusion of persons with disabilities should be included, as a whole, as an expenditure category.

2.13   The EESC affirms that children with disabilities should fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with others and recalls the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the obligations that flow from it.

2.14   The EESC urges a transition from institutional to community-based care in order to respect the rights of persons with disabilities to live independently. European funds should not be used to build nor renovate institutions, but instead to finance the transition process from institutional to community-based care, including converting institutions into community-based services. It stresses the need to promote adequate standards of living and active ageing.

3.   Evaluation of the European Disability Strategy 2010 – 2020

3.1   The EESC considers that the EDS partially reflects the ambitions of the UN CRPD and believes that the EDS's areas for actions are relevant and should be reinforced in the light of the UN CRPD.

3.2   The EESC regrets that gender equality is not a cross-cutting issue in the EDS. It calls for the disaggregation of disability-related data by gender, and gender statistics to also include women with disabilities. The EESC recommends gender budgeting in the EU financial instruments relating to disability. Gender mainstreaming should be guaranteed when implementing the EDS.

3.3   The EESC welcomes the fact that the EDS addresses the lack of disability-related data and calls for indicators to be developed to measure the employment and poverty rates of persons with disabilities and their access to education.

3.4   While acknowledging the importance of prevention, as addressed in the EDS under the section on health, the EESC notes that the EDS would do better to focus on affirming the rights of persons with disabilities rather than on mixing them with prevention.

3.5   The EESC welcomes the EDS's strong commitment to accessibility and its positive impact on society (e.g. older people and persons with reduced mobility). Accessible businesses will attract more customers (15 % of consumers). New products generate new markets and are a source of sustainable economic growth (13). The EESC recalls the EU Council Resolution ‘accessibility represents no less than a cornerstone of an inclusive society based on non-discrimination’ (14).

3.6   The EESC promotes the use of Structural Funds to provide adequate financial support for the EDS. In particular, it suggests making a more effective use of the European Social Fund (ESF) to promote labour market integration and of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to acquire a high level of accessibility in Europe.

3.7   The EESC believes that the EDS should further promote independent living for people with disabilities via community-based care and de-institutionalisation. European funds should be invested to promote community-based care and ensure such care is of proper standard.

3.8   The EESC points out (13) that active inclusion must be linked to the labour market and provide an adequate level of income and access to high-quality social services, reflected in improved living conditions also for those who are far from the labour market (15).

3.9   The EESC believes that the EU, being the world's largest donor of external aid, should lead by example and promote disability mainstreaming in its cooperation work.

3.10   The EESC promotes an inclusive single market and calls for compulsory social considerations in public procurement especially in fostering accessibility, through the adoption of an ambitious and legally binding European Accessibility Act, and promoting employment, non-discrimination and quality of social services. It welcomes the European 473 standardisation mandate (16) and calls for mandatory accessibility standards to support legislation in public purchasing, following the example of the American accessibility legislation (17). The EESC recognises the importance of dialogue between institutions, industry and civil society in defining such standards (18). However, due to its limited success in practice, a legally binding and more structured mechanism is needed in the future.

3.11   The EESC encourages the European Parliament, European Council, and Committee of Regions to be ambitious in protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and to ensure proper implementation of the UN CRPD in the European Union.

4.   Implementation and governance

4.1   The EESC calls for the structured governance of the EDS via a European Disability Committee, as a concrete way of strengthening the existing Disability High-level Group (HLG) and to act as a coordination mechanism to implement and monitor the Convention pursuant to Article 33(1) of the UN CRPD.

4.2   The EESC believes that national disability committees are needed to ensure coordination of the EDS and UN CRPD at national level. The national committee should ensure the involvement of organisations of persons with disabilities in the coordination process and liaise with the national focal points and related European players.

4.3   The EESC believes that the composition of the European Disability Committee should ensure the participation of the representatives of persons with disabilities and consultation with the EESC and other relevant stakeholders and organisations of persons with disabilities.

4.4   The EESC commits itself to take a leading role in the promotion of the UN CRPD as the first international human right treaty ratified by the EU. It promotes the internal implementation of the EDS and UN CRPD. It will also raise awareness by organising events such as a high level conference in cooperation with the other EU institutions and representative organisations of persons with disabilities.

4.5   The EESC calls for due regard to Articles 33(1) and 33(2) of the UN CRPD, which should be implemented without unnecessary delay and in cooperation with the representative organisations of persons with disabilities. The EESC stresses the importance of placing the focal point under the direct responsibility of the Commission's Secretary-General and of ensuring the full independence and pluralism of the monitoring mechanism.

4.6   The EESC recalls the obligation to involve persons with disabilities and their representative organisations in implementing and monitoring the UN CRPD, including the EDS, pursuant to Article 33(3) of the UN CRPD and Article 11 of the TEU.

4.7   The EESC considers it important to monitor the implementation of national actions under the EDS to be achieved by 2015 by ensuring that Member States submit progress reports. The European Commission should also report on achievements at the European level. The implementation of the EDS should be linked to that of the Europe 2020 Strategy. Member States should include specific targets for persons with disabilities in their National Reform Programmes to measure poverty, employment rates and education.

4.8   Future funding programmes of the European Commission replacing PROGRESS should support the participation of DPOs representing both cross-disability and specific impairments. This will facilitate implementing the UN CRPD.

4.9   The EESC calls upon relevant stakeholders, e.g. trade unions, employers, service providers, social economy players and DPOs, to actively engage in the application of the EDS, within the remit of their responsibilities and roles.

4.10   The EESC believes that social economy players have a key role to play in the improvement of the life situation and opportunities of disadvantaged people in accessing employment and goods and services.

4.11   The EESC invites trade unions and employers to include disability-specific clauses in collective bargaining to promote inclusive labour markets and the implementation of the EDS. Member States should adopt specific financial measures to support the negotiations.

4.12   The EESC believes that the EDS should promote cooperation between national organisations of persons with disabilities and national economic and social councils to further disseminate the EDS nationally.

4.13   The EESC calls for the needs of persons who require intensive support and persons with psychosocial disability to be mainstreamed across all areas of the EDS.

5.   Revision of the European Disability Strategy in 2015 and the new framework after 2020

5.1   The EESC advocates a careful review of the EDS and an ambitious list of actions after 2015 to fight discrimination and ensure equality in the EU.

5.2   The EESC advocates reviewing existing EU legislation and systematically including UN CRPD principles in new EU legislation and policies.

5.3   The EESC promotes a comprehensive review by 2013 of the EDS to ensure compliance with the UN CRPD provisions and to cover, inter alia, areas such as the right to life and recognition before the law.

5.4   The EESC considers the key objectives of the EDS to be equality in employment, education, freedom of movement and other relevant areas of life of persons with disabilities.

5.5   The EESC reiterates that it needs to be consulted before the submission of the EU's implementation report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

5.6   The EESC recalls the importance of consistent data for policy developments and for an adequate evaluation of the EDS and urges the development of disability-specific indicators at EU level.

First Proposals for new list of EDS actions after 2015

5.7   The EESC intends to closely monitor the implementation of the European Accessibility Act in the Member States following the adoption of the European Commission's legislative proposal by the European Parliament and the Council as binding legislation. The EESC calls for a concrete plan to make all EU institutions (infrastructures, recruitment procedures, meetings, websites and information) accessible to people with disabilities.

5.8   The EESC stresses the importance of amending the disability-related articles of the European Commission proposal for an antidiscrimination directive in order to comply with the UN CRPD and calls on Member States to consistently adopt strong European legislation that extends the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities beyond the field of employment.

5.9   The EESC believes that the new list of post-2015 actions should include measures to address the specific situation of persons with psychosocial disabilities, women and girls, children and older people with disabilities as well as persons who require intensive support.

5.10   The EESC stresses the need to ensure that persons with disabilities can fully benefit from freedom of movement. The EESC advocates the adoption of a European Mobility Card based on the mutual recognition of disability-related benefit-in-kind across EU countries as a tool to enabling persons with disabilities to freely move in the EU on an equal basis with other EU citizens. Following the example of the Parking Card, the Mobility Card should also aim to secure access to various benefits offered by many public and private institutions e.g. access to public transport, to museums, etc. The EESC expects concrete proposals to remove the barriers to the portability of disability allowances and specific support services e.g. public assistance and assistive technology.

5.11   The EESC proposes the creation of an Observatory on Disability to analyse the situation of persons with disabilities in the EU, exchange good practices and support policy developments.

5.12   The EESC calls for a legally binding European quality framework for community-based services to be developed and implemented in the Member States.

5.13   The EESC urges that mainstream education should be inclusive. It suggests teaching sign language in primary schools, hiring teachers qualified to use Braille and other appropriate modes to support pupils with disabilities.

5.14   The EESC calls for the development of a common European disability assessment system based on a human rights approach (19).

5.15   The EESC suggests promoting equal recognition before the law for persons with disabilities. The European Court of Justice and national courts must be accessible and take all appropriate measures to fight discrimination.

5.16   The EESC recalls that the right to vote is an inalienable human right recognised by the UN CRPD for all people with disabilities. It reminds all institutions concerned that age and citizenship requirements alone can determine the person's eligibility to vote and to stand for election. The EESC firmly and unequivocally rejects the idea of restricting the right to vote or to stand in elections on the basis of a disability, whether by a court order or other means. The EESC calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to abolish discriminatory guardianship laws to enable all persons with disabilities to exercise their political rights on an equal basis with others. It notes that reasonable accommodation in respect of voting procedures, facilities and materials is indispensable to guaranteeing the right to participate in national and European Parliament elections.

5.17   The EESC calls for evidence of the effectiveness of existing policy instruments for the improvement of the situation of persons with disabilities. It suggests doing so by funding EU projects, studies and research.

Brussels, 21 September 2011.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Staffan NILSSON


(1)  COM(2008) 426 final.

(2)  TFEU: Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Article 19(1) ‘Without prejudice to the other provisions of the Treaties and within the limits of the powers conferred by them upon the Union, the Council, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation’.

(3)  SEC(2010) 1324 final.

(4)  SEC(2010) 1323 final.

(5)  Art. 1 CRPD: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=261.

(6)  http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/statistics/themes.

(7)  OJ C 354, 28.12.2010, p. 8–15.

(8)  OJ C 132, 3.5.2011, p. 8–14.

(9)  Idem.

(10)  COM(2010) 636 final.

(11)  OJ C 234, 22.9.2005, p. 27-31; OJ C 162, 25.6.2008, p. 92–95; OJ C 354, 28.12.2010, p. 8–15; COM(2010) 636 final.

(12)  OJ C 120, 16.5.2008, p. 73–81; § 4.5.2.

(13)  OJ C 354, 28.12.2010, p. 8–15.

(14)  Council Resolution (2008/C 75/01).

(15)  EUROFOUND.

(16)  M/473 – Standardisation mandate to CEN, CENELEC and ETSI to include ‘Design for All’ in relevant standardisation initiatives.

(17)  OJ C 354, 28.12.2010, p. 8–15. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a legislative framework prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services.

(18)  See the standards already being implemented under mandates 376 and 420 as well as the links:

http://cms.horus.be/files/99909/MediaArchive/M420%20Mandate%20Access%20Built%20Environment.pdf.

(19)  A common assessment system of disability based on the rights enshrining in the CRPD through the revision of ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health).


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