Millions of disabled people have been thrown into poverty and social exclusion by the European Union’s attempts to recover from the economic crisis, according to Europe’s leading disabled people’s organisation.
The European Disability Forum (EDF) spoke out as it launched its manifesto for the upcoming European elections, laying out six policy priorities that it believes should be adopted by political parties across the continent.
The manifesto calls for reform of the European Union’s (EU) economic recovery policies, which it says are harming any attempts to implement the UN disability convention.
EDF says the EU should establish ways to “mainstream” the convention across all areas of EU and national policies, and ensure that disabled people are involved in making decisions that affect them.
The manifesto warns that disabled people have faced “drastic cuts in social services and benefits”, greater unemployment and a return to segregated institutions, and it calls for a strategy to address the unemployment, social exclusion and poverty affecting them.
Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF’s president, told the launch event at the European parliament this week that – despite legislative progress – the “real situation” of disabled people had worsened.
He said: “We need the loud support of the European parliament and of all candidate MEPs during the election campaign to promote a drastic change of policy whereby public finances consolidation is not at the expense of fundamental rights and social cohesion in the EU and does not create more exclusion for those who are already excluded.”
The manifesto also calls for new laws to extend protection from discrimination for disabled people and other minority groups, with existing legislation only covering employment.
EDF wants the EU to deliver on plans for a European accessibility act, which would cover goods and services across the EU. A draft law was supposed to be issued in 2012 but is finally expected this year.
The manifesto also calls for the proposed EU directive on the accessibility of public websites to be adopted, and for an “accessible, seamless transport chain throughout the EU”.
And it says the EU should remove obstacles to free movement by making it easier to access benefits and support for disabled people moving from one EU country to another.
EDF also wants to see a new European mobility card, which would ensure disabled people could access transport, culture and tourism discounts in other EU countries.
The elections will see 751 MEPs elected for the next five years, with about 400 million people across the 28 EU member states having the right to vote between 22 and 25 May.
For the first time, the make-up of the new European parliament will decide who leads the European Commission, the EU’s executive body.
The parliament says on its website: “As the European Union seeks to pull through the economic crisis and EU leaders reflect on what direction to take in future, these are the most important European elections to date.”
12 February 2014