European Parliament Political Groups leaders agree on strong actions to support disability rights

1 December 2016

Group photo of EDF President with the EP Political Groups leaders.Two days before the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December), EDF met with Presidents and top politicians of the main Political Groups in the European Parliament. Josef Weidenholzer (S&D Group Vice-President), Sabine Verheyen (EPP Coordinator in the Committee on Culture and Education), Syed Kamall (President of the ECR Group), Gabriele Zimmer (President of the GUE/NGL Group) and  Ulrike Lunacek (Vice-President of the European Parliament, Greens/EFA) renewed the commitment of their Political Groups to support the rights of persons with disabilities in Europe, three years after the first high level meeting with EDF.

They all signed a declaration to take up a series of important initiatives in order to ensure the full inclusion of persons with disabilities and the enforcement of their rights. The declaration reflects their commitment to support:

  • the adoption of a comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation;
  • the adoption of a overarching and comprehensive EU strategy 2020-2030 for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD);
  • investment in promoting social inclusion of persons with disabilities, even in times of budgetary constraints;
  • the adoption of a strong and ambitious European Accessibility Act;
  • the organisation of the 4th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities in 2017
  • making the 2019 European elections fully accessible to persons with disabilities;
  • mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities systematically in the EU refugee and migration legal framework and policy work;
  • the protection of the rights of women and girls with disabilities and the swift ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, including the banning of forced sterilisation in EU Member States.

The full text of the declaration is available here

EP Political Group leaders signing the joint declaration


EDF President, Yannis Vardakastanis, opened the meeting by welcoming the representatives of the Political Parties and embracing their commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities as particularly crucial in these times of crisis:

“Ever since 2008, Europe is struggling to cope with the financial crisis, which became a social and human rights crisis with increasing inequalities and poverty. Persons with disabilities and their families have been hit disproportionally hard: austerity measures resulted in decreased investment, and decreased access to services that enabled persons with disabilities to live independently, to work and participate in society. These relentless cuts result in institutionalisation and social exclusion. Migrants and refugees with disabilities have also been ignored in the current migration crisis in Europe. The EU must in all cases take a human rights based approach that protects people with disabilities and their families. Austerity measures adopted by the EU and its Member States must not negatively affect the living conditions of persons with disabilities. The EU should propose a social protection floor, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee), and should ensure that the rights enshrined in the CRPD are mainstreamed in and implemented through the European Pillar of Social Rights, the EU funds as well as in the overarching EU economic and social strategy”.

Referring to the proposal for the European Accessibility Act that is currently discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, Yannis Vardakastanis, underlined the importance of widening the scope of the Act in order to make more goods and services accessible. The Act must include Audiovisual Media Services, ICTs, e-books, transport and very importantly the built environment where products and services are provided.

Taking the floor, Gabriele Zimmer, President of the GUE/NGL Group, who hosted the meeting, referred to the impact of the economic and migration crisis on people with disabilities:

"Disproportionally, people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty and face social exclusion. Amongst them, refugees and displaced people with disabilities have additional challenges such as neglect and being ostracised. Upholding their human rights has to be a top priority for the European Parliament and we will continue to pressure EU leaders to take concrete actions to implement the CRPD to defend the rights of people with disabilities."

Sabine Verheyen, EPP Coordinator in the Committee on Culture and Education, attending on behalf of EPP President  Manfred Weber, expressed the support of the EPP Political Group to the European Disability Strategy “with the aim of ensuring that fundamental rights of disabled people are respected and implemented and that their access to services, employment, health systems, education and to the labour market is guaranteed”.

“Today we can all agree that these objectives are not achieved yet and that we have to work hard on our policies and our actions to guarantee a full implementation of the European Disability Strategy”, she added urging the EU Fundamental Rights Agency to do more research, more statistics and more flagging of violations of the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU Member States:

“In each and every of our policy we have to learn better how we could use the EU to bring more access to disabled people: in our transport policy, in our education policy, in our budget, in our digital agenda etc.”

Josef Weidenholzer (Vice-President of the S&D Group) said that: "Signing this Declaration is a huge step forward and will ensure that everyone has the same opportunities."

Syed Kamall (President of the ECR Group), underlined: “Achieving real equality and opportunity for persons with disabilities is an issue close to me. We need to do all we can, both politically and personally to knock down barriers which exist in our communities and show there are no limits to what can be achieved”.

Ulrike Lunacek, Vice-President of the European Parliament, attending on behalf of Philippe Lamberts, Co-Chair of the Greens/EFA Group, stated:

“This meeting is a great occasion to come together and discuss jointly on further steps to support persons with disabilities. Not only the implementation of the CRPD in European legislation is overdue, but also the practical realisation in various areas has to be emphasised. The European Parliament has urged the Council of the EU several times to swiftly adopt the Equal Treatment Directive, voted by the European Parliament in 2009 already. This does also include the increase of the accessibility of the European institutions and their respective documents to persons with different disabilities. The Greens/EFA group already offers information in sign language and with subtitles on their webpage and is continuously striving to widen this.  We are willing to work closely with EDF in order to foster the rights of persons with disabilities especially in social policies."



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