Europe ‘must act’ on freedom of movement


Members of the European disability movement have called for new laws to guarantee freedom of movement for disabled people across the Europe Union (EU).

They were speaking at the 15th annual general assembly of the European Disability Forum in Budapest, Hungary, from 27 to 29 May.

The general assembly heard that while the EU supposedly guarantees freedom of movement for all its citizens, there is no such right for disabled people, who still face “major difficulties” when travelling or going to study, work and live in another European country.

Next year, the European Commission (EC) plans to introduce proposals for a European Accessibility Act, which will aim to address barriers to goods and services, including transport.

Delegates to the assembly heard that the EC must include and listen to the European disability movement when preparing the act.

EDF wants the act to be in the form of a directive, which would impose a legal duty to ensure accessibility, but would allow each country freedom to decide how to bring that about.

Disabled campaigners are also calling for a new European mobility card, which would allow disabled people from the UK to enjoy the same concessions as disabled people in other EU countries when they are travelling through or living in those countries.

These benefits could include reduced fares or priority seating on public transport, exemptions from toll road charges, and reduced ticket prices at the theatre.

An EDF spokeswoman said such a card would be a “very important… very concrete and symbolic” development for disabled people.

Last November, the EC raised the possibility of introducing a mobility card when it launched its new European Disability Strategy.

Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF’s president, also told the general assembly that austerity measures introduced by EU governments in response to the financial crisis were “hitting us hard” and causing “alarming situations for persons with disabilities”.

He said: “We are not responsible for this crisis and the disability movement will fight to ensure that 80 million persons with disabilities are not the first to pay.”

In a meeting this week with an EDF delegation, including Vardakastanis, the EC president, Jose Manuel Barroso, pledged to put pressure on national governments to protect the rights of disabled people during the financial crisis.

1 June 2011