The past 6 months, Portugal presided the Council of the EU and took the lead on many important policy issues that concern persons with disabilities. We will give a short analysis of what has taken place and how it will advance the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU.
First of all, the Portuguese Presidency had the honour of welcoming the new Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030, which was published in March. To that occasion a big conference took place on 19-20 April, including a Ministerial Meeting, at which EDF President Yannis Vardakastanis addressed the national Ministers. One of the topics presented at the ministerial meeting were the draft Council Conclusions on the Disability Rights Strategy.
Unfortunately, the adopted Council Conclusions fell short of our expectations. It did not outline any concrete commitments of the Council itself, and it did not put any pressure on Member States or other EU institutions to take a more ambitious stance on the implementation of the Strategy. We criticized this in our press release, pushing for urgent action to include the Council more actively in the monitoring of the CRPD and creating better inter-institutional communication and collaboration with a permanent Focal Point on the UN CRPD within the Council.
There were, however, also successes: the Council Conclusions on the protection of vulnerable adults were adopted and include an obligation to comply with the CRPD following our advocacy work which came after a disappointing high level conference on vulnerable adults that did not include any speakers from representative organisations of persons with disabilities. Council Conclusions on the Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy also included a reference to transport accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities.
Finally, an important step forward that the Portuguese Presidency took, was re-opening the discussions about the Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive which has been stuck in Council for more than 10 years. The Presidency published a Progress Report in which it mentioned that it proposed a new text in order to get a step closer to adoption. This proposed Directive has been very controversial and negotiations have been stalled time and time again because it requires adoption by unanimity in the Council, which is difficult to achieve. While we are glad to hear that the discussions have been started up again, we are disappointed to hear that some extremely important issues such as accessibility and right to reasonable accommodation have been removed from or weakened in the draft text. We deeply regret that the Portuguese presidency did not consult disability organisations in the preparation of their proposal.
In this regard, it became apparent again that the lack of transparency and accessibility of the Council’s decision-making procedures and preparatory bodies is a huge obstacle for Civil Society Organisations like us. We were not consulted on any of the above-mentioned documents, and when we sent feedback only very little of it was taken into account. The meetings are behind closed doors and minutes are not published, or if they are, this happens only weeks later. This is not an issue specifically with the Portuguese Presidency but it persists throughout the institution and it makes EU legislation less inclusive and accessible.
Marie Denninghaus – Policy Coordinator
Photo Credit: EU Parliament