Activities and initiatives in Europe
Involving people with disabilities in EU policymaking
Drawing by Marina WirlitschIn 1992 the United Nations set 3 December as a date for the International Day of People with Disabilities. To mark European Day of People with Disabilities, the European Commission organizes a policy conference in the first week of December each year, in close cooperation with the European Disability Forum (EDF). This year’s Conference took place in Brussels on 1 and 2 December.
The Conferences for European Day of People with Disabilities form part of the EU’s wider efforts to promote the mainstreaming of disability issues, as set out in the EU Disability Action Plan 2003 – 2010. They stimulate the exchange of information and good practice in areas that are crucial for the social inclusion of people with disabilities and facilitate networking between key players in the disability policy field. In turn, the findings and conclusions feed into the further development of the EU Disability Action Plan.
Time for local action
This year marks substantial progress in the policy process supporting persons with disabilities and the 2008 Conference focused on how this is experienced at the local level. The topic of the conference is “Acting locally for a society for all”. The opening speeches were presented by the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Mr. Vladimir Spidla, the EDF President Mr. Yannis Vardakastanis and the State Secretary for Solidarity at the French Ministry of Labour, Social Relations, Family and Solidarity, Mrs. Valerie Letard.
The conference provided opportunities for the European disability movement leaders, representatives of local and regional authorities and of the EU institutions to discuss the cooperation between all the stakeholders and the participation of disabled people in the decision making process at national and regional level.
The process of ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is under way. After ratification by the 20th signatory, the Convention entered into force on 3 may 2008. It is acknowledged that disability is a broad human rights issue and a matter of law. In particular, it means that people with disabilities have the same rights to equal access to goods and services ant to contribute to society and the economy as anybody else. Mainstreaming of disability issues in all policy areas is the main pillar of the Convention and the inclusion of the local level is absolutely necessary if it is to be successful.
Compliance of non-discrimination legislation with the UN Convention and the inclusion of the stakeholders in the policy process were also explicitly encouraged by the Slovenian Presidency in its Conclusions following the second informal ministerial meeting on disability issues.
While disability policies fall mainly within the competences of the Member States, the European Union’s policies complement and support national developments. The European Structural Funds, which play a key role in supporting national, regional and local developments, are a good example of how it is possible to get closer to the local level. Article 16 of the Structural Funds Regulation makes accessibility for persons with disability a prerequisite.
In 2008 the Commission also made a proposal for a new legislative initiative to complete the EU anti-discrimination legislative framework, with a view inter alia to ensuring non-discrimination on grounds of disability outside the employment sphere, namely in education, social protection, and access to goods and services.
As 2010 is approaching and with the end of the European Disability Action Plan 2003 – 2010, it is time to talk about the future and start a consultation process on strategies from 2001 on.
During the conference, accessible voting was organized for all participants relating areas that need to be in the focus of the European Commission’s attention in the period of 2010 – 2020.
The results of the voting pointed out the priority areas:
- Independent living
- Political, civil and public participation of persons with disability.
The mechanisms that would assist in improvement of the condition in the priority areas:
- Campaigns for raising public awareness
- Financial support