Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for the invitation to this important hearing to discuss the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the CRPD – and in particular the review by the CRPD Committee of the EU’s implementation of the convention.
This hearing is an important moment at an important time. As we all know, the EU’s implementation of the CRPD is currently being reviewed by the CRPD Committee; a first for the EU, a first for a UN human rights convention, and a first for any intergovernmental organisation. This creates a unique opportunity, but also a unique responsibility which we all have an obligation to fulfil.
The CRPD has profoundly altered how people with disabilities are seen by international law. At the same time it paves the way for the same paradigm shift to take place in European society. The CRPD recasts disability as a human rights issue. It significantly alters the way people with disabilities should be viewed – No longer as objects of charity, but instead as citizens with equal rights to fully participate and be included in society. It puts the focus on the barriers not the impairment, and it puts people with disabilities at the centre of decisions about their lives. This reflects the philosophy of the disability movement: ‘nothing about us without us’.
But the CRPD is more than just standards – important as they are. It is a driver of change and it therefore requires concrete action across the European Union. In this respect, the convention sets out the building blocks that can transform our societies by empowering people with disabilities to contribute on equal terms socially and economically.
Some of these building blocks are already being put in place as Member States and the Union strive to comply with the requirements of the CRPD. As the Focus paper FRA published yesterday shows, for many Member States this means wide-ranging changes. I will give a few examples from key areas where the EU has a particular role to play:
First, concerning equality and non-discrimination:
Some Member States have already extended protection beyond employment, the only area currently covered by EU legislation. In Spain, for example, a 2013 law foresees the adoption of reasonable accommodation mechanisms in areas critical for achieving the goals of Europe 2020, such as: telecommunications and information society; transport; public goods and services; justice; as well as employment.
Extending the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability EU-wide and aligning it with the protection already afforded on other grounds would be a very welcome development for the many millions of people with disabilities across the EU. This would happen if the proposed ‘horizontal’ Equal Treatment Directive were to be adopted.
Equality and non-discrimination principles are increasingly shaping national legal reforms in regard to accessibility. For example, Sweden this year added the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities as a new form of discrimination protected under its existing Discrimination Act. This covers many areas of life, including employment, goods and services, healthcare, and social services.
Looking ahead, accessibility is also an area where secondary EU legislation could help “raise the bar” across the Union by setting minimum standards. In this context, the planned European Accessibility Act should improve the market for accessible goods and services by stimulating innovation and harmonising accessibility standards.
Third, independent living:
The right to live independently and be included in the community covers wide-ranging obligations including choice in living arrangements, personalised support and access to community services and facilities. Here again some Member States have already taken action. From 2013, people with disabilities in Latvia, for example, have access to two new support services: personal assistance at the municipality level of up to 40 hours per week and sign-language interpretation for up to 120 hours per year.
Several Member States are focusing on the transition from institutional care to community-based support. This is a complex process involving many actors from persons with disabilities themselves, to professionals working with them to local authorities and their social services. Here, the EU can play a decisive role through its European Structural and Investment Funds, which can provide a crucial source of funding. The legislative efforts to refine the common provisions regulation, particularly through the inclusion of ex-ante conditionalities, have gone a long way to ensuring that the money will be used in the right way. But we are still at the beginning of this process, and we must all be vigilant to make sure that the huge potential of this enormous resource translates into real, positive outcomes on the ground.
Fourth, political participation:
This issue is especially pertinent for you, as Members of the European Parliament. FRA evidence shows that 21 EU Member States prevent some people with disabilities from voting and standing for election on the basis of their legal capacity. This includes elections to the European Parliament and municipal elections.
But even here, a shift is underway. Croatia, for example, changed its electoral legislation to allow people deprived of legal capacity to vote for the first time in the 2013 European Parliament elections.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We still have some way to go in the European Union until the Convention is fully implemented both by the EU itself and by its Member States. But the evidence shows that we are moving in the right direction, thanks to the commitment of the institutions and the Member States of the Union to meet their obligations and confirm that the EU can be a beacon for human rights.
In closing, I would like to refer to the important work of the EU’s CRPD Monitoring Framework. That all the members of the Framework are represented here today – in our individual capacities – is an important symbol of our commitment to promote, protect and monitor the CRPD in the EU.
On 4 March this year, all members renewed their commitment to the Framework. They underlined their willingness and availability to participate actively in the EU review process by the CRPD Committee, as well as in the follow up to the Concluding Observations when they are released this autumn. Today, FRA reaffirms this willingness to contribute with all the means provided by its mandate.
The Framework brings together very different bodies with very different mandates. This must be acknowledged and respected. But the Framework, while fully respecting the constraints of our mandates and EU competence, can and should be ambitious. The Framework’s Work Programme for 2015-2016 is a signal of this ambition, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with all our Framework partners to make sure that it is implemented.
As we look ahead to the rest of the EU review process, and beyond, we must keep at the forefront of our minds what the CRPD is really about: ensuring that fundamental rights are made a tangible part of everyday life for everyone with disabilities throughout the EU.
We all share a responsibility to use all the tools at our disposal to make sure that happens. FRA’s growing evidence base and independent expertise is available to support this process, and we invite you all to take advantage of this resource.