Europe’s leaders ‘must take action on poverty and discrimination’


The European Union’s (EU) leaders have been urged to take action to ensure disabled people do not suffer more poverty, exclusion and discrimination because of the European financial crisis.

The call came from Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum (EDF), during the first meeting between the EDF and the heads of all the EU’s main institutions.

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, promised in response that the debt crisis would not cause the EU to delay new disability-related legislation, which should include a planned European Accessibility Act.

And he said it should also not delay the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The meeting was held to discuss the implementation of a 10-year disability strategy, adopted by the European Commission last year; how disabled people were being affected by the economic crisis; and EU progress in implementing the UN convention.

Vardakastanis told the meeting that the EU must implement the convention “without delay” and take “concrete measures and steps to protect persons with disabilities from the repercussions of the crisis for which we are not responsible”.

He said disabled people were feeling the effects of the crisis in “their services, their income, and their possibility to live independently, their everyday life”.

He said: “We expect from you as leaders of the EU institutions to send a strong message from this meeting, a message of hope that the EU institutions do not support cuts in disability-related sectors, measures and policies included in the austerity measures put in place in member states.”

He added: “Even in member states that are hit less by the crisis, persons with disabilities experience cuts in their services and benefits.”

A report by the EDF Observatory has found that disabled people are facing cuts in disability benefits and a reduction in services, while the financial crisis is also affecting the capacity of disabled people’s organisations to represent the interests of millions of disabled people across Europe.

EDF wants all new EU legislation and policies to take account of the UN convention, with European Commission guidelines developed so this “mainstreaming” can be “swift and effective”. It also wants a “thorough revision” of existing EU legislation and policies.

The meeting was hosted by Barroso, and attended by Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and other senior EU figures.

They were reminded by EDF of the importance of European action in areas such as access to technology, the built environment, and transport, as well as social care.

The European Commission will publish a European Accessibility Act next autumn, which aims to ensure disabled people have equal access to the built environment, transport, and information and communication services.

There will now be a similar high-level meeting every two years between EU leaders and EDF.

7 December 2011