This is the first of a series of interviews with Members of the European Parliament.
In this interview, we spoke with MEP Alex Agius Saliba about his report on petitions addressed to the European Parliament regarding disability issues.
Question: You recently lead a report on petitions concerning disability rights. What are the main findings and recommendations so far?
Each year, the Committee on Petitions receives 1% of the petitions related to different disability issues. It is not a high number but a steady number that shows that persons with disabilities face discrimination and obstacles in everyday life and do not enjoy the fundamental freedoms and rights laid out in the Convention.
This report gives the chance of stocktaking of the petitions, to examine their content as well as their follow-up and to draw conclusions.
The Committee on Petitions plays a ‘protection role’ to ensure EU compliance with the CRPD within the policymaking and legislative actions at EU-level. This role is an important institutional responsibility given to the committee in the EU framework.
This report is very timely, taking into account the recent launch of the new disability strategy 2021 – 2030 by the European Commission.
The report also highlights the importance of the role of Commissioner for Equality, which played an instrumental role in establishing the new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030.
In former answers given by the Commission on petitions, it announced that it would include examination of certain elements raised in petitions in the context of the new disability strategy, for instance a follow-up of the ongoing pilot project on the EU disability card.
Finally, the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 proposes an EU-wide Disability Card by end of 2023 in order to scale up the pilot project of the European Disability Card. I strongly believe that the European Disability Card will be a very important instrument to help persons with disabilities to exercise their right to free movement in a barrier-free Europe. Therefore, the report emphasizes that mutual recognition should be mandatory in all Member States.
Moreover, in 2016 PETI Committee received a petition asking the European Parliament to allow tabling a petition in all national sign languages. To follow up this petition, an inter-service working group on sign languages was established in the Parliament in order to implement measures to fulfil the request of the petitioner. In this regard, the Report calls on the relevant Parliament’s services to continue its efforts and finalise the project on the inter-service working group on sign language in the shortest delay in order to meet the requests this petition to allow for the tabling of petitions in international and national sign languages used in the EU and thus make the fundamental right to petition more accessible for sign language users
The report also welcomes the Commission’s proposal of the creation of the “AccessibleEU” resource centre by 2022. However, I believe that a creation of an EU Agency on accessibility (“EU Access Board”) would strengthen its power and give EU institutions, policymakers and Member States specialist information on accessibility, including policy recommendations based on scientific evidence and on input from the most vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities. This Access Board could also be in charge of developing technical specifications on accessibility in support of specific EU policies and legislation, carrying out consultations with rights-holders and stakeholders, helping Member States and EU institutions to implement accessibility in a harmonised way for the benefit of the single market, and raising awareness of the importance of accessibility for inclusive societies.
I support the Commission’s proposal to establish a Disability Platform in order to strengthen governance for cooperation at EU level and for implementation of the European Disability Strategy 2021-2030 and national disability strategies with new mechanisms such as the Disability Platform. However, I stress in the report an important role of focal points in all EU institutions and agencies, including Parliament and Council, with the central focal point within the Commission’s General Secretariat, which would be supported by an appropriate interinstitutional mechanism.
In July the report will be voted by the Committee on Petitions.
Question: What can the Parliament do more to protect the rights of persons with disabilities?
First of all, we have to keep pushing on the Council to unblock the EU horizontal anti-discrimination directive, which would provide greater protection against discrimination of all kinds through a horizontal approach. Otherwise, we should call on the Commission to present an alternative solution in order to move forward in tackling discrimination across the EU.
Secondly, the European Parliament should continue pushing on the Commission to support Member States in shaping their national strategies and action plans to further implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the EU legislation in all fields.
Thirdly, I believe that the remaining Member States that did not ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention should do so without further delay. Optional Protocol is an indivisible part of the CRPD that provides citizens with the forum to communicate alleged violations of the Convention by the State Party, and allows the CRPD Committee to initiate confidential inquiries where they receive information indicating a grave or systematic violation by a State Party.
Last but not least, in PETI Committee we kept all the petitions that have been examined in the report open. I am planning to put them back on the agenda for Hearing with the Commission in order to follow up Commission’s actions, stated in the new disability strategy.
Question: What would you like to see in terms of advancement of disability rights by the end of your term?
By the end of my term I would like to see that there is mutual recognition of disability status between EU Member States that would eliminate obstacles for persons with disabilities when moving to another Member State for work, studies or other reason.
Moreover, I would like to see some achievements in the area of independent living, which is one of the fundamental rights of every person. In order to achieve this, we need to provide persons with disabilities with appropriate support, care and personal assistance, so they can fully participate in society. Personal Assistance schemes should provide direct personalised support in order to help enable persons with disabilities to exercise their activities of daily living within their home, workplace or and in the community, where and when needed, without limited hours. In this regard, the European Commission should take actions to mobilise essential investments and resources to the Member States in order to guarantee the continuity of care and support services, which should be in line with the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Last but not least, I would like to see persons with disabilities being able to participate in the next European elections and being able tabling petitions in their national sign language!