Several Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) called on the Commission to announce its commitment to a new European Disability Strategy as soon as possible, during a debate on the topic during the European Parliament’s Plenary session of 17 December.
The debate, which resulted from an oral question put to the Commission by MEPs Rosa Estaràs Ferragut, Cindy Franssen, Ádám Kósa and Stelios Kympouropoulos, will be followed up by an European Parliament’s resolution on the disability strategy in February.
Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli provided the opening and closing statements for the debate. She informed the plenary that a decision would only be taken after evaluation of the current strategy, by mid-2020. She stressed that all decisions will be done in close consultation with representative organisations of persons with disabilities, such as the European Disability Forum.
More than 35 MEPs intervened during the debate, calling for a faster commitment to an ambitious strategy that effectively implements the UN Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
MEP Stelios Kympouropoulos (Greece, European People’s Party) was the first speaker. He asserted the importance to invest to ensure that persons with disabilities can have an independent life, with dignity and full respect of human rights.
MEPs from several parties clearly called for an accelerated commitment to the strategy. MEP Rosa Estaràs Ferragut (Spain, European People’s Party) said: “100 million Europeans are waiting for the Commission to take a step forward and present a new strategy for disability”. MEP Alex Agius Saliba (Malta, Socialists & Democrats) stressed that “”We need a renewed strategy and a more ambitious agenda (to ensure) persons with disabilities participate in the society”. MEP Dragoş Pîslaru (Romania, Renew Europe) stated that “We need the new strategy to take into account the lessons of the past”. MEP Tilly Metz’ (Luxembourg, Greens/EFA) delivered a strong message: “inclusion in society is not a luxury. (100 million people are) not enjoying their full human rights”. MEP Radka Maxova (Czechia, Renew Europe) was clear: “the disability strategy is coming to an end and we need to create a new one”. MEP Romana Tomc (Slovenia, European People’s Party) warned that “”We are lagging (with a new disability strategy), we need to step on the gas a bit”. MEP Manuel Pizarro (Portugal, Socialists & Democrats) told the Commissioner that he “would like to hear more commitment from the Commission on this (next European Disability Strategy)”. MEP Izaskun Bilbao Barandica (Spain, Renew Europe) clearly called: “Commissioner, the Union needs a new strategy for disability”.
MEPs also asked for the future Gender Equality Strategy to take into account the rights of women and girls with disabilities. This was a clear call from, for example, MEP Chrysoula Zacharopoulou (France, Renew Europe) and Katrin Langensiepen (Germany, Greens/EFA).
MEP Abir Al-Sahlani (Sweden, Renew Europe) called on a resolution to ensure all persons with disabilities are able to vote in the next European Elections, a demanded that is echoed by the European Disability Forum.
MEP Kim Van Sparrentak (Netherlands, Greens/EFA) also introduced an important point: the future initiative on fair minimum wages should forbid current discriminatory laws that allow persons with disabilities to receive wages lower than the minimum wage.
MEPs also called for harmonization of disability assessment, an essential measure to ensure freedom of movement in the EU extends to persons with disabilities. Such a call was echoed by Róża von Thun und Hohenstein (Poland, European People’s Party) and Leszek Miller (Poland, Socialist & Democrats)
The wishes for the new strategy are clear: it should involve persons with disabilities, it needs to ensure all EU initiatives comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and it needs use flagship initiative such as the EU Green Deal to advance the rights of persons with disabilities. This was a clear call from several MEPs, including Stelios Kympouropoulos (Greece, European People’s Party), Brando Benifei (Italy, Socialists and Democrats), Isabella Adolfini (Italy, Non-attached members), Manuel Pizarro (Portugal, Socialists & Democrats), Julie Ward (United Kingdom, Socialists & Democrats) and Loucas Fourlas (Cyrpus, European People’s Party)
MEPs demands for areas of focus of the next strategy included reducing poverty, a call from Milan Brglez (Slovenia, Socialists and Democrats), Marianne Vind (Denmark, Socialists and Democrats) and by Jose Gusmão (Portugal, GUE/NGL); support de-institutionalisation and independent living, a subject mentioned by several MEPs such as Mairead McGuiness (Ireland, European People’s Party), Cindy Franssen (Belgium, European People’s Party), Róża von Thun und Hohenstein (Poland, European People’s Party) and Lucia Nicholsová (Slovakia, European Conservatives and Reformists); accessibility of transport built-environment, a call from MEPs including Radka Máxova (Czechia, Renew Europe) and Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (Lithuania, Socialists & Democrats); and more investment in inclusive education and access to the labour market, which was mentioned by most MEPs, such as Hélene Fritzon (Sweden, Socialists & Democrats), Frances Fitzsgerald (Ireland, European People’s Party), Chiara Gemma (Italy, Non-attached member) and Dragoş Pîslaru (Romania, Renew Europe)
We congratulate and thank MEPs for the strong show of support regarding a new Strategy. We share many MEPs opinion: the Commission should announce a strategy now and not wait for the evaluation of the new strategy to end. The evaluation should be used to shape the new strategy, not for deciding if there is one.