European Parliament agreement after historic meeting is ‘major development’


theweeksubThe five main political groupings in the European Parliament have signed an agreement committing their members to do more to protect disabled people across Europe from the effects of the economic crisis.

The agreement came at an historic meeting yesterday (5 June) between the presidents of the five groups and Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum, Europe’s leading disabled people’s organisation, which also signed the accord.

The five groups pledge in the agreement to bring forward “concrete proposals” to protect disabled people from the fallout from the recession that has hit member states across the European Union (EU), including the subsequent austerity measures introduced by governments.

Vardakastanis said: “Persons with disabilities are hit disproportionally hard by the austerity measures in Europe, paying for a crisis they are not responsible for.”

The five political groups also pledge their commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and say they will introduce a new taskforce to monitor its implementation within the parliament.

Vardakastanis said: “It’s time for the EU to fulfil its commitment to the UNCRPD and to 80 million Europeans with disabilities. Today, together with the political groups of the European Parliament, we take a concrete step in this direction.”

He told Disability News Service later: “For the first time ever in the history of the European Parliament, the leadership of the major political groups met to discuss with EDF specific issues around people with disabilities.”

He said the taskforce to monitor the parliament’s implementation of UNCRPD was a “major institutional development” and would be a “formal recognition” of the convention’s importance and a way to “mainstream disability in the work of the parliament”.

He added: “This is a major agreement. Now we need to make it a major reality.”

He said he wanted to see the agreement implemented by the end of this year, and certainly by the end of the current parliament, next spring, but added: “We need to be judged by results, but we have opened a door that was closed.”

The five political groupings also call in the agreement for the European Council – the leaders of EU member states – to abandon its five-year “blockade” of the parliament’s Equal Treatment Directive, legislation which would provide “comprehensive” anti-discrimination laws across the EU.

The directive was published in 2008, and covers discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of disability, age, sexual orientation, and religion or belief.

And the five groups promise to make “every effort” to ensure the accessibility of all of their campaign information in the run-up to next year’s European elections, stressing that it was “imperative” that every disabled person could take part in the elections “on an equal basis with others”.

They also call again for the European Commission to bring forward an “ambitious” new accessibility act, with “strong, binding measures at EU level to improve the accessibility of goods and services” across the EU.

The agreement was signed by the centre and centre-right EPP group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, the Socialists and Democrats group, the Greens/European Free Alliance group, and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group.

In a joint statement, they said: “It is time to stop thinking that we are dealing only with a financial crisis, but also with a social and human rights crisis.”

They said that “while finding a cure for our ever growing national deficits and public debts, we should also bear in mind that there are millions of people behind these figures and percentages, who are the ones hit the hardest”, including disabled people.

6 June 2013