Turning Point for Persons with Disabilities in Europe

Before and After 1997: A Turning Point for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Europe

The European Commission adopted a landmark European disability action programme, known as Helios II, in the period 1993-1996. Contrary to its predecessors, Helios 0 and Helios I, this programme had a formal, established way to consult persons with disabilities and their representative organisations. This so-called “consultative body” was composed of 12 national councils of persons with disabilities, one from each member state at the time. They were selected by the European Commission. The body supported the setting of the programme’s priorities and the coordination of the programme.

However, the body was limited in its work and functioning. The organisations of persons with disabilities in Europe then realised the importance of building an independent organisation. As a result, the European Disability Forum was created in 1997.

1997 marked another important turning point in the European disability policy. For the first time, the EU agreed that disability should be referred to in its treaties. When the Amsterdam Treaty was adopted the EU received the power to combat discrimination based on disability, among other grounds of discrimination such as sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, age or sexual orientation. (Article 19 of Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).