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Procedure : 2010/2272(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0263/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0263/2011

Debates :

PV 24/10/2011 - 13
CRE 24/10/2011 - 13

Votes :

PV 25/10/2011 - 8.9
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2011)0453

Debates
Monday, 24 October 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

13. Mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report by Ádám Kósa, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities and the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 [2010/2272(INI)] (A7-0263/2011).

 
  
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  Ádám Kósa , rapporteur. (HU) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it has been mentioned many times within the walls of the European Parliament building that there are around 80 million people living with disabilities in the European Union. Political decision makers have so far failed to devote the necessary attention to and care for this extremely large social group. These are regrettable facts which have been stressed by the European Parliament on several occasions.

I think we have reached a turning point in the history of the European Union. The Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian Presidencies, together with the European Commission, have made disability a matter of priority which has several links with various policies. Let me just say that this was due for a long time.

This is why it is an honour for me, as a deaf MEP, to be the rapporteur for this report. It has also been an honour for me to receive all the help and support from the shadow rapporteurs in this enormous task.

And it has also been an honour to receive around 400 amendment proposals, as well as various opinions from three other committees. These amendments and opinions have been incorporated into what is now the full and final text of the report.

The only objective that I was guided by when preparing my report was to come up with a realistic and feasible position at the time of the economic crisis, one that feels tangible for people with disabilities, reflects the European Parliament’s strong commitment towards people with disabilities, improves the situation of disabled people, and also prompts the European Commission’s active involvement.

From the several proposals received, let me highlight two: one is a key element of the European Commission’s proposed strategy, the European Accessibility Act, for which the report has great expectations, because it proposes the development of a controllable mechanism. The other is the expected progress in the area of info-communication accessibility.

On the other hand, the report also redefines the role of the European Parliament, which we stress, so that the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities can receive greater emphasis in the European Parliament.

We have high expectations for the proposal that calls for the establishment of a European Disability Board. Let me also stress that a substantial part of the report is based on compromises.

We received different proposals, of which progressive proposals have been incorporated into the report. This resulted in the inclusion of various aids or other progressive parts in the report, such as the call to recognise sign languages.

I would like to urge the European Commission and Member State governments to be proactive and enable the social inclusion of people with disabilities as soon as possible, so that they can become active citizens of the European Union. This would be an incredible opportunity for 80 million people.

One thing is certain: since the Lisbon Treaty, people with disabilities are no longer classed as second class citizens on paper. However, it is now time to turn this into practice, to make sure that all citizens are equal.

 
  
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  Dacian Cioloş, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, honourable Members, allow me first of all to congratulate you, and the rapporteur, Mr Kósa, on your report on mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities and the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020.

In this report, the European Parliament is once again demonstrating its long-standing commitment to ensuring that equality and inclusion become a reality for the 80 million or so disabled people living in Europe.

Disability-related issues have entered the legal and legislative domain. On 22 January, for the first time in its history, the European Union became a signatory to an international human rights treaty: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has entered into force in the European Union. That important step for the rights of disabled people may well have been taken, but it was the European Parliament’s unfailing support throughout the complex procedure that also led to the conclusion of that Convention. Your April 2009 legislative resolution sent a strong political message in this regard and helped pave the way for a unanimous agreement among the Member States in the Council. The Commission is committed to making the rights enshrined in the Convention a reality, in cooperation with the Council and Parliament.

As regards the European Disability Strategy, I am anxious to reassure you that the emphasis placed today on an approach based on human rights and on citizen-focused disability policies is far from being a simple semantic change. It is based on very practical measures, which are also explained in detail in the European Disability Strategy.

The overall aim of this strategy is to enable disabled people to exercise all of their rights and to participate fully in all aspects of social and economic life, as individuals, consumers, students, workers and political actors.

Our strategy focuses, first and foremost, on removing obstacles. It provides the means to implement the United Nations Convention at EU level through the adoption of an ambitious programme of action. Although aspects of everyday life, such as education, health care and employment, are chiefly the responsibility of the Member States, we are convinced that EU-wide action is needed to support and complement the efforts made at national level.

We are going to use the Europe 2020 strategy and its instruments to encourage the full economic and social participation of disabled people. Through this integration-based approach, we will ensure that disabled people are not excluded from any action whatsoever. Rest assured that we will be monitoring very closely the measures taken by the Member States to improve the employment situation of these people. We will learn about these measures via the reports on the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, submitted as part of the annual national reform programmes; the issue of disabled persons is included in these reform programmes and in the reports that the Member States will have to provide to the Commission.

I am pleased to announce that the Commission will be making our recovery from the crisis the dominant theme of the conference held to mark the European Day of People with Disabilities. The conference will focus, in particular, on the contribution of the flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy and on funding to promote inclusive growth as guaranteed by the Union.

As regards the European legislative act on accessibility, in June, the Council declared itself broadly in favour of the European Disability Strategy and called on the Commission to review the framework currently in place to guarantee accessibility. This issue is at the heart of the strategy, and the adoption of a European legislative act on accessibility is one of the agreed priority actions in this area. Accessibility means enabling any person with disabilities to enjoy the same access as everyone else, whether it be access to his or her physical environment, to transport, to information or to communication. Accessibility is an essential precondition for enabling such persons to exercise their right as recognised by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the United Nations Convention. The studies and complaints received from the public indicate that access to goods and services is still insufficient on the European market. What is more, accessible goods and services are often expensive; this situation is clearly due to the fact that it is a limited market in which there is still little competition.

These deficiencies are obstacles preventing disabled people from participating in the economic, social and political life of our society. Given our ageing population, there is clearly a potential market for highly accessible goods and services.

Businesses often seem to ignore the economic potential of disabled people as consumers. Many Member States have sought to improve accessibility by drafting national guidelines and standards in order to meet the obligations laid down in the United Nations Convention. However, if we settle for providing purely national responses to the issue of the lack of accessibility, the 27 Member States will each end up with different legislation, regulations, standards and technical requirements, meaning that we will ultimately have a fragmented market that offers very little in the way of competition. We are convinced that a European market in accessible goods and services would hold far greater appeal for businesses.

The adoption of a European legislative act on accessibility should aim to encourage economies of scale for accessible goods and services, to fill the gaps in the market, and to increase competition. The European Commission plans to present a proposal for a European legislative act on accessibility in autumn 2012. The many issues relating to this initiative and to its content, scope and legal form are currently being examined. The preparation process has, in fact, begun and will be supported by a substantial impact assessment.

We would like to receive contributions from everyone concerned but, naturally, we would like to obtain the opinions of disabled people and the organisations that represent them as a priority. It goes without saying that we are also very interested in the opinions of businesses, service providers and public authorities in the Member States.

We also hope that you will see fit to participate in this process, and we invite you to give us your thoughts on this issue so that these legislative acts may be drafted properly.

 
  
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  Oreste Rossi, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to offer my particular thanks to the shadow rapporteurs in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. It is crucial for the European Union to have a disability strategy in order to help create a sustainable, competitive and innovative society by developing smart and inclusive growth.

The European Union and its individual Member States must make a commitment to ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and implementing the strategy in its entirety. They must guarantee freedom of communication for all by giving official recognition to Braille and sign language, and guarantee freedom of movement by removing architectural barriers, incorporating dedicated transport services into the public transport system and introducing a unified passengers’ charter.

In health terms, it is important to remove inequalities and ensure that everyone is provided with at least a minimum level of care and adequate rehabilitation services based on their desire for autonomy. Young people must be given effective support to enable them to take part in social and civic life, lifelong learning and the world of work through the introduction of specific quotas and measures to adapt jobs to the needs of job-seekers with disabilities. Lastly, citizens who are able-bodied to varying degrees must also be regarded as a resource and not a burden.

 
  
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  Edit Bauer, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. (HU) Mr President, first of all, I would like to congratulate Ádám Kósa for his excellent report. I, too, would like to highlight a few ideas from the report and opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM).

Firstly, women living with disabilities face multiple discrimination. In this respect, I fully agree with Mr Kósa’s opinion, that there is a long journey from de jure to de facto equality.

Secondly, there are three groups of women who are more exposed to the risk of poverty: single mothers with disabilities, mothers of disabled children in two-parent or broken families, and elderly women with disabilities.

My third remark, therefore, is about inclusion, which is of the utmost importance, and national strategies should also take into account that we have groups of people with various disabilities living among us who have different needs. We have high expectations for these strategies in this respect.

 
  
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  Giles Chichester, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Petitions. – Mr President, we on the Petitions Committee are well aware of concerns about this issue because of the many submissions and petitions we receive on the subject. All those who have full enjoyment of their faculties may be forgiven for easily forgetting or not realising the difficulties faced by people with disabilities. I learnt this lesson myself when I faced the loss of sight in one eye because of a detached retina. That was relatively easily fixed and I was very fortunate, whereas many millions are not so fortunate because they have permanent disabilities.

Our opinion is about encouraging good practice, but we must all be aware of the challenge we face in delivering promises and therefore be wary of raising hopes that we may not be able to afford in these difficult economic times.

 
  
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  Regina Bastos, on behalf of the PPE Group.(PT) Mr President, I would like to warmly congratulate my colleague, Mr Kósa, on his excellent report. It tables concrete measures to enable disabled people to participate actively in society. The figures say it all: there are around 80 million disabled Europeans and only 30-40% have a job or are able to work.

This rate of employment is very low, which exacerbates the risk that they will become victims of poverty and social exclusion. There still remains much to be done as regards increasing the employment of disabled people and eliminating discrimination against them. Participation in working life and economic independence are essential factors in social integration. As such, the Member States should remove the barriers to accessing jobs and facilitate mobility in all areas of life.

The purpose of these measures to be adopted by the Member States should be to improve everyone’s quality of life, in a society in which it is possible to work more effectively and under better conditions. As such, the very important role of education and training systems, which must be sufficiently primed to meet the needs of disabled people in the best way possible, is of particular importance.

I would like to conclude by calling for the European Disability Strategy to be properly implemented in all the Member States.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, on behalf of the S&D Group. (LT) Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur for his work overall and for drawing up the report which focuses on increasing the mobility of people with disabilities, by eliminating physical and social hindrances for the disabled when using public buildings and public services. I would like to draw attention to the fact that, in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, we have decided to call on the Member States to approve the proposal for an anti-discrimination directive as soon as possible. The Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats calls on us to comply with the agreed compromise and vote for all the European Union Member States, the Presidency and the Commission to work as much as possible on the Anti-Discrimination Directive, which stalled a long time ago, and find possible solutions so that this directive moves forward, is adopted and enters into force throughout the European Union as soon as possible, because this would indeed greatly improve the situation facing disabled people.

Secondly, although the report discusses employment for people with disabilities, there needs to be an even greater focus on guaranteeing education and vocational training opportunities and providing the required help for disabled people in the workplace. I would like to underline the fact that the high level of unemployment is the greatest obstacle to the inclusion of disabled people in society, and that unemployment among disabled people arises because of insufficient preparation for the labour market. Many schools and vocational training institutions lack trained specialists and suitable training programmes for disabled people and, in the end, training institutions are not physically adapted to the needs of disabled children and young people. Thus, the education system’s approach to disabled children and young people is still inadequate, and absence from school leads to significant social and employment disadvantages, and consequently poverty, particularly during the present economic crisis. The Member States, the Commission and the European Parliament must therefore work together to ensure that the lives of disabled people and their families really do change, not just in words but in deeds. Today, I am sad to say that I do not see representatives of the Presidency in the House.

 
  
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  Niccolò Rinaldi, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I must thank the rapporteur, Mr Kósa, who has been as tireless as ever. This report begins by citing 40 or so official reference documents, including United Nations conventions, communications from the European Parliament and the Commission, resolutions, green papers and miscellaneous acts, which makes one realise just how much work has been carried out over the years on legislation, regulations, guidelines and recommendations in the field of disability.

Moreover, this report puts forward a long list of objectives to further the inclusion of our fellow citizens with disabilities. I would like to mention two of these objectives in particular. The first is the participation of people with disabilities in the decision-making process, based on the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’. The second objective is to regard this subject as a human and civil rights issue, in other words, not an issue about a single group of people, but one that touches on the very identity of the European Union.

The reality in Europe is very different, however, Mr President, because sadly, we are witnessing an increase in the suffering and pain of people with disabilities in our countries. We see structural funds that should be available but are shamefully left unused by Member States or local authorities, and we see infringements by these same Member States or local authorities that are not punished as they should be by the Commission. We see good practice in some countries, but unfortunately, it is ignored and not exported or valued elsewhere, and we see treatment that varies from one country to another or from one region to another within the same country, which limits considerably the freedom of movement of our fellow citizens with disabilities.

 
  
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  Julie Girling, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, increasing the level of mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities is a laudable and, I believe, an achievable objective. We are told that the current economic crisis has had a disproportionately negative impact on people from marginalised groups: unemployment rates for Europe’s 80 million people with disabilities are twice as high as those for people without. Thus, the issue needs to be addressed with some urgency, but I cannot agree with the Commissioner that this can only be achieved at EU level.

I very much support the direction of this report but believe that it goes too far in calling for unnecessary initiatives at supranational level. We should not use the current crisis as a reason for increasing bureaucracy and red tape. In this report, we call for, among other things, the creation of a European disability board, but without any clear setting-out of what such a board should do, other than that it should meet regularly. The calls on Member States to adopt legal and financial measures to support the employment of disabled people and the call for detailed measures on institutional care and provision of housing benefits stray well into Member States’ territory.

I would be happy with a statement of general principles, but this report is far too detailed and prescriptive and risks creating a tangled bureaucracy where simplicity would be a better remedy. Initiatives for increasing the employment opportunities for those with disabilities must come from Member States, each able to adapt to its own national traditions and social customs. Legislation which tries to help everyone, with its overarching supranational one-size-fits-all nature, often helps none.

 
  
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  Elisabeth Schroedter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the new European Disability Strategy must be based entirely on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Through close cooperation with the rapporteur, we have been able to achieve this where the key points are concerned. Why is this so important to us? Firstly, only then can the EU meet its obligations under the UN Convention. Secondly, it means that our society has to change its perspective in favour of supporting human rights, because the UN Convention elevates inclusion into a basic principle of our lives together – and that is a good thing.

People with disabilities do not bear the sole responsibility for adapting to the existing structures for people without disabilities; instead, the social structures need to change, so that they accommodate equally the wide variety of situations in which people find themselves in life, and thus also the reality of life for people with disabilities and people needing support. This applies to all phases of life – from attending ordinary nurseries and schools, through to participating in working life, and workplaces in which people with and without disabilities work together. It also applies to independent living, including in old age and where a person has considerable support needs.

As the Commissioner has already mentioned, for an inclusive society, it is essential that every area of life is barrier-free. This applies not just to the built environment, but also to communication and the various kinds of mobility, and it includes linguistic barriers to access. The right of inclusion must extend to everyone, including people requiring particular support.

That is why it is so important to us that this resolution states that special arrangements are transitional; something to be overcome. It is clear that we want support from the regulatory system. We want to change tack in this respect. To achieve all this, however, it is essential that there is a ban on discrimination. That is why it was so important to us that this resolution calls on the Council to finally break the deadlock on the fifth Anti-Discrimination Directive.

I call on the German Government, which is blocking this completely for ideological reasons, to finally take its foot off the brake and allow us to prevent discrimination in every phase of life and give people their rights. For us – and I am appealing to the rapporteur here – it is crucial that this demand remains in the report. Otherwise, the report is worthless as far as we are concerned.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(PT) Mr President, we are living through a time in which there is a need to raise awareness of the rights of disabled people and to fight for their full application. These are human rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and their additional protocols. It has been signed by all the Member States of the European Union, although only 17 have ratified it so far. We therefore call for all Member States to do so as soon as possible.

However, there is also a need to develop EU and national policies and strategies in the area of disability that facilitate the social inclusion of disabled people, that properly support their organisations, and that take account of the enormous difficulties faced by many of the families of disabled people. These must not just stop at a vague European Commission action plan with no fixed timetables, no adequate financial support, no practical measures, and no coherent policies.

It is not enough to say that the human rights of disabled people are recognised, and then to adopt policies that, in practice, threaten their most fundamental rights. That is what is happening with the so-called austerity programmes, with the neoliberal policies of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and with the requirement of meeting the SGP’s irrational nominal criteria, which serves as a cover for pay cuts and for the closure of essential public services for these people, as is happening in Portugal, Greece and other countries. This threatens access to crucial public services, such as health, education, transport and energy.

We know that the majority of the almost 80 million disabled people in the European Union encounter great hindrances in their surroundings – some physical, some social – including services and products that cannot be properly accessed. We know that the level of employment of disabled people whose capacity for work has changed is generally very low throughout the European Union, with only 30-40% of these people actually working. Although it is known that disabled workers are able to achieve significant results if they find a job that matches their experience, skills and interests, as is mentioned in a World Labour Organisation study, the situation is even more serious in the Member States with weaker economies.

Although this report tackles these issues in general terms, we regret that a proposal that we tabled on the need to create and apply minimum incomes at Member State level was not adopted by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, as this would facilitate the lives of many disabled people and their families. We also believe that the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) should go no further with its proposal on Article 53. Our final vote will depend on that too.

 
  
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  Frank Vanhecke (NI).(NL) Mr President, like pretty much all my fellow Members, I am in almost full agreement with pretty much all the recommendations in this report, which aims to provide better opportunities for the disabled in our Member States. I do have a couple of important reservations, however. First of all, I want to say that this House must always respect the principle of subsidiarity as a matter of principle. That also means that, in fact, all aspects of social security can best and most efficiently be regulated and funded at Member State level, or even at the level of the regions within the Member States.

Secondly, I have very serious doubts about recitals 26 and 53. We really should have learned that massive funding via the Structural Funds is far from always efficient as – and I am expressing myself very carefully here – when money comes from Europe, it is, by definition, not carefully managed. If I turn now to recital 53 – why does the very wide-ranging and highly controversial anti-discrimination policy have to be incorporated here? Doing so is unnecessary and stands in the way of potential unanimity. I therefore hope that the amendments concerning these two paragraphs will be approved so that I can also give my backing to the report as a whole.

 
  
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  Elisabetta Gardini (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by congratulating Mr Kósa on his excellent work. I am absolutely sure that we have all worked well, but I am also absolutely sure that we really need to change our approach.

Even though so much has been written and given that there are so many regulations and laws at national and supranational levels, as well as agreements and treaties, the fact is that not enough has been done for this extremely numerous group of disadvantaged people. The figure of 80 million Europeans – about 16% of the people of Europe – with disabilities is one that we have often heard quoted. These people need assurances and guarantees of equal opportunities in all respects.

We must also bear in mind that the demographic changes that we are always talking about mean that this figure is likely to double by 2050. This huge group of people not only need help, but they also need to be placed in a position in which they have equal opportunities, equal access and the same rights as any other EU citizen.

Today, we have the technology to really provide these people with the means and tools to become full citizens in every respect. I am thinking, for example, of the battle we have had in Italy to achieve something very simple – subtitling for television programmes – though as an Italian, I am ashamed to say we have had little success so far. Just think, for example, when there are election campaigns, which are now conducted entirely through the media, people with hearing impediments find it difficult to keep well enough informed so as to duly exercise their fundamental democratic right to vote.

 
  
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  Kinga Göncz (S&D).(HU) Mr President, I, too, support Mr Kósa’s report. I believe that it is particularly important to mitigate the effects of the crisis and pay special attention to those who, in these times, have greater difficulties in terms of their social inclusion.

One of the priorities of the EU 2020 strategy is inclusive growth, and we, too, have responsibilities in this area. This requires people with various disabilities to be able to participate in education and employment and have access to various basic services and goods. Furthermore, we must create an environment that enables them to live independently.

The delegation from Freedom Drive visited us recently, and during discussions with the European Parliament, expressed these wishes and handed over their petition. An important element of this report is that it urges the Council to make real progress, within a set deadline, in adopting the horizontal Anti-Discrimination Directive, which provides equal access in all areas of life.

I would like to call attention to the issue of people living with psycho-social disabilities. Their interest representation is weaker than that of groups with other disabilities. They, too, must have a say in public affairs and must be supported in decision-making processes. The principle of ‘nothing about us without us’ must be implemented in respect of every issue, including in the course of EU resource allocations, and the principle of integration must also be applied.

 
  
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  Marina Yannakoudakis (ECR). – Mr President, there are eight million people with some form of disability in the EU, and this report covers numerous important issues. It is right to focus on long-term investment for people with disabilities, to look towards social inclusion and to look at problems faced in terms of health care. But it needs to go further. If the European Parliament is serious in protecting the rights of people with disabilities, it should deal with the issue in the same way it now deals with women’s rights.

I have long held the belief that the focus of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality is too narrow. It is time for the rights of other vulnerable groups to be covered by this committee. I believe we need a committee on equalities, which will help deal with discrimination that is based on gender, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual orientation. That would be a truly bold move which would offer support to people with disabilities as well as other groups that are often treated unfairly.

 
  
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  Mikael Gustafsson (GUE/NGL).(SV) Mr President, this resolution is an important one because it deals with the fact that society must improve accessibility and not put people, men and women, with disabilities at a disadvantage. I am particularly pleased that the resolution emphasises the equality aspect of this issue. Reduced freedom for people with disabilities nearly always leads to increased care by women. Women with disabilities are also more often victims of poverty and social exclusion.

In a socially sustainable society, there would be no double discrimination of women with disabilities. In a socially sustainable society, women and men with disabilities would have a good quality of life and not suffer social exclusion.

However, the current austerity policy is making it very much harder to achieve a socially sustainable society.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: DIANA WALLIS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – Madam President, I would like to thank the rapporteur for his work on this report and his work on the Disability Intergroup.

However, I have a feeling in the Chamber that this is a debate about ‘us’ and ‘them’. I think if we spoke more about how disability can and will affect anybody – it is not just an issue at birth but many of us will have a disability throughout our lifetime – then we might be dealing with this in a more practical way.

There is one issue that I want to specifically address, namely, the spending of European Union funding, particularly cohesion and structural funding. In some areas, we have seen that this is used to re-establish institutions which we have worked to try to dismantle. The message must be – certainly from this Parliament – that people with disabilities should be able to live independently with the structures that they require and should not be forced into institutional living.

It would be very wrong if European Union funding went against the very principles of the UN Convention. I think that those countries that have not yet ratified that Convention should do so.

The fact that there is not enough information on the particular issue of the care of people with disabilities in institutions, which is referred to in the report, is something that absolutely needs to be addressed. I think we need to be aware that we should not allow the most vulnerable to suffer due to economic crisis, and in times of austerity, we need to make sure that they are the ones that we look after best.

My final point is as follows. This House is championing the issue of disabilities with our rapporteur. I think that we could equally do with a champion within the Commission. Commissioner, I know your minds are full of other things, such as agriculture – and I include myself in that – but this is an issue that is inclusive of all parts of society. It really needs its voice to be heard, even though we are going through very difficult economic times.

 
  
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  Antigoni Papadopoulou (S&D).(EL) Madam President, as we have already heard, 80 million European citizens are living with disability in the European Union. That is equivalent to 16%. Of them, one in four is at risk of living below the poverty line and only 30-40% are in work. They face obstacles, both physical and social, low employment rates and social exclusion.

However, their fate cannot be determined by an accident of birth. They are entitled to equal opportunities in life. My congratulations to Mr Kósa on his innovative recommendations. I also agree that they need to be integrated and implemented in the Commission’s new ten-year European Disability Strategy, because we need solutions that will safeguard better access for people with disabilities to goods, services and new technologies, equal access to digital literacy and appropriate education and training systems and a plan for everyone that will safeguard accessibility, independent living, freedom of movement and the implementation of e-europe initiatives.

It is only by making proper use of people with disabilities that we shall be able to attain the employment target of 75% set in the EU 2020 strategy.

 
  
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  Richard Falbr (S&D). (CS) Madam President, I welcome this report, and I do not agree with the view that this is a matter for individual Member States, because whenever we try to take any steps at European level in the social area, cries of ‘subsidiarity’ and ‘tradition’ go up from certain quarters, and we know what comes of that. In the Czech Republic, for example, all programmes enabling employment for disabled people are supposed to be removed. The establishment of protected workshops will be restricted, and the disabled will be much worse off for that. This situation is not limited to my own country, but is repeated in other Member States, and we must therefore act together, if we do not want to lose people’s trust in the EU.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE). (SK) Madam President, I welcome Mr Kósa’s report, as I have always supported the full integration of disabled citizens into society. I hope we will soon see a single European mobility card. Countries provide their own disabled citizens with a system of reductions, increasing their mobility and their chances of finding employment. As soon as these people cross a border, however, they lose the support. At the same time, the system of reductions based on the student card has been running for years, not only throughout Europe, but also in many other countries of the world. We are talking about the integration of disabled people. I firmly believe that we would like to ease the situation of all the people whose everyday lives are burdened by a disability, and that we do not wish to discriminate between them. I am therefore concerned that the report makes special mention of certain organisations, thereby undermining the general principle of the report.

 
  
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  Katarína Neveďalová (S&D).(SK) Madam President, I would like to start by applauding the work of our rapporteur, Mr Kósa, and to thank him for producing an excellent report. I also welcome the conclusions of the Council on a new European Disability Strategy for the next 10 years, and the effort to implement the principle of equal opportunity and equal treatment on an increasing number of fronts.

We are also continuously trying in the Committee on Culture and Education, as well as in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, to overcome the exclusion of these groups of citizens, who face genuinely difficult conditions in terms of employment, education, vocational training, and access to equal opportunities and the services that healthy people enjoy, as well as social protection and health care.

We have therefore also fought for better conditions, rights and integration for disabled people in specific reports on support for mobility, such as Youth on the Move, Promoting Workers’ Mobility in the European Union, European Schools and others.

This group of people also has a right to mobility and the range of opportunities that EU membership offers us. We must not forget them, and we must see them as people who, despite their handicap, are often exceptionally gifted, able and experienced in many areas.

 
  
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  Catherine Bearder (ALDE). – Madam President, I congratulate the rapporteur on an excellent report, particularly the paragraphs focusing on the need to ensure equal participation for people with disabilities in public life. In my experience, I believe that real change and real inclusivity will not come until we ensure adequate political participation both as voters and as elected representatives.

When you look around this Parliament, it is clear that this balance is something that we have yet to achieve here in Europe. As this report rightly points out, equal opportunities cannot be seen as treating people with different needs just the same. Here, I believe that we in Europe have much to learn from our African neighbours. Uganda and South Africa and others have policies of quotas in public posts for those with disabilities.

It is clear to me that the current under-representation of people with disabilities across all EU Member States means that we need more than wishful thinking. This report stops short of calling for quotas, but I believe that we must take this step if we are to achieve proportional representation for European citizens who live with disabilities.

 
  
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  Rosa Estaràs Ferragut (PPE).(ES) Madam President, 80 million people, 16% of the population of the European Union, suffer from some kind of disability. This is why Mr Kósa’s report is so timely. It is an important report that discusses the European Disability Strategy and analyses it in detail.


I would like to highlight three ideas in this report. The first of these is inclusive education, which is necessary so that each student’s individual characteristics can be taken into account, as required by Article 24 of the United Nations Convention. The second idea is the need for the employment market to open up to people with disabilities, so that we can meet the Europe 2020 strategy target of 75% employment. The third idea is that the economic crisis must never be an excuse to discriminate against disabled people.

Lastly, other significant ideas in the report include a single European mobility card that would allow all benefits and rights to be mutually recognised in the Member States, and a similarly unified travel card to consolidate our efforts to help this group.

 
  
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  Olga Sehnalová (S&D). (CS) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, support for the inclusion of people with restricted mobility is one of the priorities of the EU 2020 strategy. The EU also ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in January this year. This step is undoubtedly a sign of the determination of the EU to build a barrier-free Europe for about 80 million people. Fulfilment of the generally defined objectives, however, must include concrete practical steps both at EU and Member State level, and particularly at local community level.

In the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism, we have long been pushing for people with disabilities to have more accessible and properly tailored information on the rights they have for facilitating mobility. As the shadow rapporteur for the White Paper on transport, I would like to encourage the European Commission to present a document setting out the rights of passengers on all forms of transport as soon as possible, on the understanding that the document will have a separate chapter on people with disabilities. There are thousands of everyday obstacles for people with disabilities to overcome.

I firmly believe that access to information in an appropriate form is one of the preconditions for the better social inclusion of people with disabilities and the elimination of barriers, in the interests of better mobility.

 
  
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  Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR).(PL) Madam President, among people with disabilities, those in the most difficult situation are those unable to move around by themselves. I am aware of one case in Poland of a person who cannot get about and is having huge problems obtaining a wheelchair because he has to pay some of the money towards the purchase himself and this is becoming impossible for him. It seems that our efforts, whether at European or national level, should be directed towards making it possible for such people to move around freely and not be confined to home. This should not be determined by any payments. Such a person should simply be entitled to move around freely.

I would like to congratulate the author and say I am glad that this very serious issue of people with disabilities is being discussed by Parliament and is an object of interest to the European Union.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Madam President, around 88 million people with disabilities live in the EU. For disabled people, mobility in our society means their being able to live their lives with as few barriers as possible, independently, and hence in the way they want to. To achieve this, it is crucial that we integrate disabled people into the labour market more. The employment level among disabled people varies from one Member State to another, but the overall average for the EU is pretty low. There is thus still much to be done; we have a lot of catching up to do.

Studies show that disabled people often perform at an above-average level if they are given employment appropriate to their skills and abilities. We need greater awareness of this in the EU. Small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, have a key role to play in employing disabled people. The integration of people with disabilities should also be included as a parameter when awarding public contracts.

 
  
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  Dacian Cioloş, Member of the Commission.(FR) Madam President, I should like to provide some clarifications and details in response to certain speeches.

Firstly, I should like to repeat what I said in my introduction, namely, that the European Commission is drafting a European legislative act on accessibility, which will be preceded by an impact assessment on the degree of accessibility that currently exists in the European Union, in the various Member States, and by a cost-benefit analysis of accessibility measures of an economic nature. Indeed, I believe that, in parallel with legal and legislative measures, we also need to boost the industry, services and production of goods that might be aimed at this group of people, so as to ensure that this accessibility does not just exist on paper but is actually implemented in practice.

I believe that this cost-benefit analysis, together with the use of European instruments, will also enable us to find and increase the number of opportunities for disabled people to gain access to the various instruments they need.

I should also like to point out that many powers, many responsibilities regarding issues such as employment, education and social protection, lie with the Member States, but that this does not mean that everything should rest with the Member States and that we should do nothing at European level. Firstly, the Commission supports the Member States in their efforts and in their power to take action at national level by providing them with data and indicators on the situation of disabled people and by organising exchanges of best practice, and, secondly, we have the Europe 2020 strategy, which addresses this issue directly and indirectly through various flagship initiatives.

Firstly, I would mention the flagship initiative on innovation, which stipulates that accessibility standards must be met in public contracts provided in the Member States. Secondly, I would mention inclusive growth, or access to employment for disabled people, through initiatives that should come from the Member States and which are supported by specific programmes. Lastly, I would mention the flagship initiative on social innovation in favour of vulnerable persons, which is specifically dedicated to this issue.

I also wish to make it clear that the Anti-Discrimination Directive, which has been with the Council since 2008, is still being discussed in that institution. I can assure you that the Commission is actively supporting the negotiations taking place in the Council with a view to the adoption of that directive.

I shall conclude by pointing out that, in the European Commission’s opinion, Parliament’s Committee on Petitions will still have an important role to play in ensuring that these issues remain at the forefront of public and political attention, rather than being remembered only from time to time, and in maintaining a link with reality when the various legislative proposals are drafted.

 
  
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  Ádám Kósa , rapporteur. (HU) Madam President, I am very grateful for the comments of all my fellow Members, because they all highlighted the areas where urgent action is required, thus reinforcing the fact that it is high time to improve the situation of people with disabilities. There is no time to lose, whether it is about education, creating jobs or providing disabled access.

We need legislative proposals and programmes that are clear and can be implemented, controlled and sanctioned at EU and Member State level. I would also like to mention another aspect, namely, that the headline target of the EU 2020 strategy to raise the employment rate to 75% cannot be achieved without the inclusion of people with disabilities.

According to the US administration, the cost of adapting a workplace for a disabled person does not exceed USD 500, which means that a workplace can be created for a disabled person for the price of an iPhone. That is why I am deeply committed to and stress the importance of the European Accessibility Act, proposed by the Commission, in order to move forward on the issue of non-discrimination.

Once again, I would like to thank all my fellow Members for their cooperation. I have been able to learn a lot during the past six months and I believe that this report contributed to strengthening the European Parliament’s commitment to people with disabilities.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Tuesday, 25 October 2011).

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Vasilica Viorica Dăncilă (S&D), in writing.(RO) According to the statistics, one person in six in the European Union lives with a disability. Overall, roughly 80 million people cannot participate fully in social and economic life due to physical and attitude barriers. Furthermore, the level of poverty among people with disabilities is roughly 70% higher than the average, which partly results in them having restricted access to employment.

I think that all Member States must review and improve their social policies specifically aimed at people with disabilities, so as to provide them with normal social and economic circumstances. I believe that the European Commission must take action in cooperation with Member States and develop strategies for removing the various obstacles and problems encountered by men, women and children with disabilities, to ensure that they can participate effectively in society with the same dignity.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D), in writing. (SK) European institutions and the European Parliament (EP) itself have, in the past, focused their attention a number of times on the issue of people with disabilities. Within the framework of legislation, the EP has always tried to promote legal standards that ensure protection of the rights of disabled people. At present, preference should be given to long term investments benefiting the disabled, rather than short term, one-off expenditure. I personally believe it is essential to provide the disabled – regardless of their degree of disability – with help according to their needs. At the same time, however, the aim should be to try and create the conditions for individually-tailored assistance to be as little needed as possible in a truly barrier-free environment. Even though we talk about integration in the sense of integration into society, these people are already fully-fledged members of society. We must strive, however, for their integration through acceptance. Opportunities are equal if the same efforts lead to similar results. It may not be possible generally to apply a unified model for all states, as far as the possibilities for study, employment, freedom of movement or various other activities are concerned. The barriers facing the disabled vary in individual cases. Some Member States emphasise specific aspects more, and others less. One characteristic, however, should be common: the provision of adequate arrangements and guarantees relating to disability, helping towards a full existence within society.

 
  
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  Lívia Járóka (PPE), in writing. (HU) I would like to congratulate my fellow Member, Ádám Kósa, for his report. I welcome the fact that he places great emphasis on improving the situation of women with disabilities, because surveys and everyday experience also show that they face the gravest disadvantages during their lives.

The phenomenon of multiple discrimination is mentioned, but not defined clearly in current EU directives, the majority of which are unsuitable for tackling this problem effectively. Disability discrimination also affects women from another direction: it is usually women who are responsible for people with disabilities or who are in need of care, and therefore cuts in public care services have a multiple effect on them.

Women and girls with disabilities face a greater risk of abusive, negligent or humiliating treatment and they are three times more likely to become victims of violence. Furthermore, statistics show that women with disabilities are far less qualified than disabled men or healthy women. In this respect, access to information and communication technologies is of great importance, since these technologies are the primary means towards the integration of disabled people.

On average, every third or fourth disabled person is employed in the EU, but several Member States fall far behind this average. These people must be supported in accessing the labour market or keeping their jobs, and the governments must work together with employers and NGOs to develop initiatives to promote the employment of people with disabilities.

 
  
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  Tomasz Piotr Poręba (ECR), in writing. (PL) People with disabilities account for a high percentage of EU society, but they often find themselves marginalised, experience difficulties in obtaining employment, and have limited opportunities to meet their basic needs. Many of them live on the poverty line, are discriminated against and excluded from participating in education and social life. The report on mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities, adopted today by the European Parliament, proposes numerous solutions which will help to draft more detailed measures aimed at improving the living conditions of disabled people.

We should not, however, overlook two important issues: the need to involve those affected directly by decisions in the decision-making process, and the fact that in many cases, the solutions best suited to the needs of persons with disabilities can be found not within the EU institutions, but in the country where the person lives. Yet the report adopted today places a strong emphasis on creating new regulations at EU level, which furthermore are intended to cover not just disabled people, but much broader social groups. This is yet another reason why, despite the many good solutions proposed in the text, I have abstained from the vote.

 
  
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  Phil Prendergast (S&D), in writing. – I welcome this motion and our commitments to the rights of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, the practical application of those rights is often impeded by hindrances in a person’s surroundings.

Recently, I met a group of people from the Centre for Independent Living, which represents people with disabilities in Ireland. They highlighted the fact that the Personal Assistance Service, which provides disabled people with assistance in many aspects of their daily lives, is not transferable throughout Europe. This means that many people with disabilities are, in practice, denied freedom of movement. They may not be in a position to take up job offers or promotions in other Member States, as they may not be able to avail of a personal assistance service abroad. I feel strongly that this is a service which we must facilitate at EU level, so that all of our citizens can enjoy freedom of movement throughout Europe.

 
  
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  Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska (PPE), in writing. (PL) The motion for a resolution deals with an issue of great social importance, and one that we are certainly always aware of, yet it is one that we regrettably overlook, since it does not concern most of us directly on a daily basis. Therefore, I welcome the report on mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities. I hope that today’s debate will help remove a lot of the obstacles continually faced by disabled people in our societies. It is important to have a strategy, but it is of paramount importance to implement it. Removing restrictions as regards opportunities for disabled people to travel, providing them with access to new technologies and employment, and taking measures to prevent their social exclusion – these are but a few of the challenges we are facing today. I would like, therefore, to urge the European Commission to develop mechanisms for all Member States that would ensure equal opportunities for people with disabilities to achieve an active life and social integration.

 
  
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  Valdemar Tomaševski (ECR), in writing.(PL) More than 80 million people, which is approximately 16% of the entire population of the EU, are people with disabilities. EU legislation is aimed at ensuring equal rights for all EU citizens, including people with disabilities. Among these rights is the inalienable right to dignity, equal treatment, to live life independently and participate fully in society.

Over its history, the European Parliament has often expressed support for improving the lives of people with disabilities. Parliament, which is elected by EU citizens on the basis of treaties, plays a vital role in representing the public interest. The European Parliament therefore has the obligation to continue to provide support for people with disabilities in their struggle for a dignified standard of life and to guarantee greater rights for such people. This should be done by fully involving people with disabilities in the life of the community. Creating conditions conducive to the employment of people with disabilities, making it possible to exercise voting rights by taking away administrative, legal or technical barriers, ensuring consistency of the rules for use of public transport by people with disabilities, or making it easier to gain access to education at all levels should be our priority.

The most important issue is that Parliament has to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are incorporated into the EU 2020 strategy, its main initiatives and development programmes, taking into account, above all, the needs of people with disabilities in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where the system of care for people with disabilities has been neglected for decades, if it ever existed at all.

 
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