Implementing the UN CRPD in the EU: The way forward

Speech by Constantinos Manolopoulos, FRA Director ad Interim, at the European Economic and Social Committee's conference on 'The implementation of the UN CRPD by the EU - the way forward' during the panel debate on 'The concluding observations have been adopted: What next?', 10 September 2015 in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for this opportunity for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights to take part in this important and timely conference. As the ink is drying on the Committee’s concluding observations, today is a good moment to take stock, reflect and ask ourselves: what next? How can we deliver on the promise of the Convention? How can we make a tangible difference to the lives of the millions of people with disabilities across the Union?

The concluding observations are a good place to start. They offer guidance on the way ahead. For it is the full implementation of the Committee’s recommendations that will continue to open doors for people with disabilities, and provide them with the support they need to live their lives on an equal basis with others in society.

Today is an important milestone in this process. This is our first opportunity to reflect on what more the EU needs to do to fulfil the promise of the CRPD, at a time when important legal and policy instruments are under discussion, such as the European Disability Strategy or the European Accessibility Act.

Let me start by looking at ‘accessibility’, an issue of concern flagged in the concluding observations: While 15 EU Member States have already mandatory accessibility standards for national and local authority buildings, the rest still need to go a long way to meet these standards. For example, in Greece to date only 9% of public buildings are fully accessible, while in France only 15% of public buildings conform to accessibility standards.

So how can FRA support the EU in turning the Committee’s recommendations into reality?

Let me first stress that FRA’s work on disability is framed by the Convention, from which it takes its lead. By the same token, FRA’s work will draw on the concluding observations. That is why the Agency will continue to engage closely with Disabled Persons’ Organisations, thereby firmly rooting its work in the real needs of people with disabilities.

FRA will continue to fulfil its mandate of collecting reliable, objective and comparable data across the EU and providing independent analysis for the benefit of all relevant stakeholders. For instance, our annual report on fundamental rights challenges and achievements will continue to report systematically on developments related to implementing the Convention.

The Agency’s unique socio-legal approach to collecting data, providing evidence and offering assistance addresses issues which the Committee has highlighted as especially important, such as legal capacity; involuntary placement and treatment; the right to vote; the transition from institutional to community-based support; violence against children with disabilities; and identifying how best to remove the barriers people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities face in society. 

Our work, FRA’s evidence reveals the gaps between international standards and the situation on the ground. This is the type of robust evidence that can, and should, be used to underpin sound policy making.

The Committee also recommends that the EU develops human rights-based indicators to assess how the Convention’s rights are being implemented, to actually measure how Again this is an area where FRA is active. To date, we have developed relevant human rights-based indicators on two articles of the Convention: on the right to live independently and to be included in the community; and on the right to participate in political and public life.

The evidence we have collected show that legal, administrative and accessibility barriers prevent millions of Europeans with disabilities from taking part in elections, although the data shows also that people with disabilities are equally or even more interested in politics compared to the general population.

FRA has also developed indicators on the transition from institutional care to community-based support, which are available on our website. These indicators will be populated with data in the coming year, but Member States, national human rights bodies, Article 33 monitoring bodies, academics, civil society organisations, Disabled Persons Organisations and others can already begin to using and testing the indicators.

The work of FRA, as well as research from many other important actors creates a valuable pool of knowledge that enables policy makers and legislators to develop evidence-based, thus effective and sustainable legal and policy measures to fulfil the rights of all people with disabilities, men and women, young and old, across all areas of social life from education to employment, from housing to transport.

This is important, because the evidence shows that developing efficient and coordinated responses that adapt services to the needs of people with disabilities, rather than making people adapt to the services, remains a particular challenge. And this underlines the importance of engaging with a wide range of actors vertically from the EU to the local level, from policy makers to those working on the ground and horizontally across many policy areas.

That is also why FRA makes every effort to involve a wide range of stakeholders in its work to ensure that it feeds into their concerted efforts to eliminate barriers from all walks of life, so that people with disabilities can have choice and control over their lives, on an equal footing with others.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge the reference of the Committee’s concluding observations in regard to the EU Framework for implementing and monitoring the Convention.

FRA, together, with its fellow framework members is committed to following up on the review process with all available resources. The Agency will work together with the other partners in the Framework to fine-tune what needs to be done next to monitor the implementation of the Convention as best as possible.

Thank you.