MEPs examined the case for a specific EU law to protect the rights of people with disabilities, as set out in a petition presented by the European Disability Forum, with the support of 1.3 million citizens from various EU countries. This petition says that the EU "anti-discrimination" directive proposed by the Commission but currently blocked by EU Member States in the Council, would not properly address the specific needs of this group.
A specific directive?
"I don't think the anti-discrimination directive is the total answer, it is part of it, but people with disabilities need a specific directive", said petitioner and former Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott. The proposed law would tackle discrimination in all fields except employment (which is already covered by EU legislation) replied the Commission representative, adding that "there are specific provisions dealing with disabilities", but "it is the Council who is blocking this proposal".
MEPs differed on this issue. "We should not try to reinvent the wheel", said Michal Cashman (S&D, UK), adding that "unless we accept a common denominator for all discrimination we won't be able to tackle this issue". By contrast, Joe Higgins (GUE/NGL, IE), argued that "we should have specific legislation" in this area.
Discrimination in insurance and education?
MEPs also examined two petitions presented by the German citizen Wasilios Katsioulis, who complained that his insurance company refused to pay him unemployment benefits on the grounds of his disability. "People with disabilities are exposed to the same risks as people without disabilities, and that is why I need insurance cover", he said. The Commission representative agreed, explaining that the proposed anti-discrimination directive would cover the insurance sector.
Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD, EL), noted that "we have a big problem if we cannot recognise the rights of 12% of the EU population", adding that "this is a major issue that needs to be tackled immediately".
Mr Katsioulis also complained that his autistic son had been excluded from schooling at a European School in Brussels. "Sometimes students don't see their needs met, but that does not mean that there is discrimination", underlined the EC representative, underlining that there is a narrower range of study fields available in the European Schools than elsewhere and hence that children with special skills in mathematics, music or sports cannot be offered a special education there. Carlos Iturgaiz (EPP, ES) commented that "it is obvious that there are plenty of schools for those 'superkids' who are the best in mathematics or physics", and he spoke in favour of schools which promote integration of disabled children.
EU-wide identity card for disabled people
MEPs also examined a complaint about the difficulties that disabled face in using public transport to travel in Europe. The petitioner, Dutch citizen Anna Schnackers, called for the introduction of an identity card, valid throughout Europe, for disabled persons with special rights to use public transport. The Commission is gathering information on disabled people's benefits in all Member States, to serve as a basis for introducing a system of transferable rights, said its representative.
It would be best to "to start with a card valid throughout Europe to further harmonise the laws at a later stage", argued Kinga Göncz (S&D, HU), noting that the EU already has a standard model parking card for disabled people, which is recognised in all EU Member States. MEPs agreed that this could be a good example for the future ID card.
MEPs also stressed the need for all EU Member States to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. This Convention, which seeks to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities, has been ratified by 14 European countries so far.
The Petitions Committee decided to take the following steps:
table an oral question to the Council, asking it to unblock the anti-discrimination directive as soon as possible,
write to the EP Civil Liberties Committee (as standing committee for the anti-discrimination directive) expressing its wish to contribute an opinion on this issue, and
write to the Council of Ministers, urging Member States to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities without delay.
In the chair: Erminia Mazzoni (EPP, IT)