Disability Intergroup: challenges and opportunities ahead

26 January 2017

The European Disability Forum (EDF), the European Parliament Disability Intergroup and the Social Platform co-organised a New Year reception on January 23rd, hosted by the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Marek Plura. This was the first public gathering during EDF’s 20 year anniversary celebration, which takes place in 2017. To mark this 20 year anniversary, EDF will campaign for a comprehensive implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in the European Union (EU).

MEP Marek Plura, Vice-Chair of the Disability intergroup, opened the event by highlighting that the Members of the European Parliament intergroup will “work hard to promote the adoption of an ambitious European Accessibility Act, to promote independent living and CRPD implementation, in close cooperation with EDF and its members”. The disability intergroup adopted an ambitious work programme for 2017. “We will also support the 4th European parliament of persons with disabilities’ said Plura.

EDF president, Yannis Vardakastanis, stated that EDF celebrates this year its 20th anniversary and underlined how relevant EDF’s motto – “nothing about us without us” is today. “EDF started its existence by campaigning for the inclusion of disability in the EU Amsterdam Treaty, in 1997. So it’s is not just 20 years of the European Disability Forum but also 20 years since the inclusion of the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU treaty. The birth of EDF, 20 years ago, gave a unique, common voice to persons with disabilities in the EU and coincided with the end of the invisibility of disability in the EU Treaty”.

20 years later, this fight is still core to EDF’s work, as the EU has yet to show its commitment to the human rights of persons with disabilities by ensuring they are included in all EU policies and laws- including the European Pillar of Social Rights. We need to make progress on the implementation of the CRPD, to ensure that the EU internal market becomes accessible to persons with disabilities, through the adoption of a strong European Accessibility Act.

“If the Americans managed to adopt strong accessibility legislation, why can’t the largest internal market in the world do it?” said Vardakastanis. “We need to understand that the Accessibility Act brings both equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and business cases for companies”.

“We expect the European Parliament to remain at the forefront of disability rights, as it was for the last 20 years”. EDF president recalled that Parliament’s Groups Presidents made important commitments to disability rights during their high-level meeting with EDF on 1st December 2016, including on the co-organisation of the 4th European Parliament of persons with disabilities at the end of 2017 and on the accessibility of EU elections: “We see MEPs with disabilities do a fantastic job in the European Parliament. Political parties must open up fully to them”.

EDF President concluded by reflecting on another upcoming anniversary. 2021 will be the 10th anniversary of the EU conclusion of the CRPD – the only international human rights treaty the EU ever ratified- it is critically important to our work and demonstrates the commitment of the European Union to the rights of persons with disabilities. “To mark the importance of Convention to the European Union and all its people, we want 2021 to be the second European Year of disability rights. It marks 10 years since the EU concluding the Convetion, and the first year of the implementation of a new ambitious disability rights agenda 2020-2030”.

The President of the Social Platform, Jana Hainsworth, embraced the EDF motto, which lies at the heard of the CRPD: ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ should lead the thinking of all of us’. Whilst hopeful that the Pillar of Social Rights will strengthen social Europe, she urged civil society to unite voices to strengthen our collective influence. 'We all have to work on a coordinated way to ensure a social Europe. Now we have an opportunity- to ensure that the EU really fights for a strong social Europe, which fully includes the voice and participation of civil society’.

In the past month, EDF collaborated with various members of the European Parliament to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities will be mainstreamed in the final text of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Last week, on Thursday 19 January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the European Pillar of Social Rights. In the resolution, the European Parliament:

“Insists that the rights of people with disabilities should be mainstreamed throughout the Social Pillar with a human rights-based approach in line with the EU’s and its Member States’ obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)”.

The rapporteur of the resolution, MEP Maria João Rodrigues, has expressed her intentions to take the resolution to the conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, which will take place in March in Rome. EDF will continue working with the European Parliament to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are fully integrated in all existing and future EU legislation and policies.

EDF would like to thank everyone who attended the reception and we pledge to continue working together to campaign for the CRPD in 2017 and in the coming years.

More information

The Disability Intergroup is one of the oldest and largest intergroups of the European Parliament. Find out more about its composition, its work and its cooperation with EDF.

Follow the news on Twitter using the hashtag #DisabilityIntergroup.

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