Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament - Fourth European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities : Opening address
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Honourable Members, ladies and gentlemen,
Please allow me to extend a warm welcome to the European Parliament to all the persons with a disability present in this Chamber today.
We are proud to be your hosts in this common house of all Europeans. I would like to thank the European Disability Forum for giving us this opportunity.
Today’s event is aimed at the 80 million EU citizens who have a disability. We must ensure that the Europe of rights and opportunities is available to everyone, without distinction and without discrimination.
Inclusion is one of the values underpinning the European Union. Our social market economy model must leave no one behind.
Today, however, we must pledge to go further than that: we must make disability one of our priorities.
Parliament’s position has always been clear: the starting point is that everyone must be able to play a full part in the democratic life of society.
This conference reflects that commitment.
Today, you are taking part in the most multilingual event which Parliament has ever hosted: we are using not only the 23 official languages, but also a number of sign languages, and velotyping on our big screen. What is more, all the meeting documents are available in Braille formats.
Parliament has taken steps to ensure that persons with a disability, whether MEPs or members of staff, can play a full part in its work.
We have made arrangements to provide persons with a disability and their children with specific assistance and support. We have taken measures to adapt our premises in order to guarantee access to Parliament for everyone.
Our view is that it is not the person with a disability who must adapt to the European Parliament, but rather the European Parliament which must adapt to the person with a disability.
We are working to ensure that this House sets an example in the European Union and throughout the world.
But that is not enough.
We must ensure that our citizens can take part in democratic life everywhere, not just here in Brussels, but also from the Member State capitals to the outermost reaches of the Union.
It is unacceptable that there should still be European citizens who are being prevented by a disability from making their contribution to the democratic life of their own country, of their own community.
The situation in our Member States is still a cause for concern. This is why, in spring this year, I sent a letter to all the Heads of State and Government asking them to make sure that all citizens, including persons with a disability, are able to exercise their right to vote in the forthcoming European elections in 2019.
We will keep a close eye on what the Member States do.
Looking ahead to that important event, the European Parliament will also conduct an information campaign intended to make people more aware about what our institutions do, using formats accessible to everyone - just as we are doing today.
We will open the doors of our offices in the Member State capitals to organisations representing persons with a disability.
Right at the start of my term of office, I signed a memorandum of understanding governing closer cooperation between Parliament’s Madrid Information Office and the Spanish National Organisation of the Blind.
I encourage you, the 700 representatives of organisations present here with us today, to consider a similar arrangement for your countries as well.
Guaranteeing persons with a disability full involvement in democratic life can only be the starting point for a process which embraces accessibility in the widest sense, employment, education and training.
We have made progress. But we have to do more.
Universal accessibility is the sine qua non if we are to guarantee persons with a disability genuine equality in our society.
It is the basis for all other forms of progress.
The progress report on the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, published in February this year, highlights the progress we have made so far and the progress we still need to make.
New technologies can help us move further along the road we still have to travel.
For example, the new rules on accessibility will make it easier to use the websites and mobile applications run by public authorities, hospitals, courts and other administrative bodies.
We incorporated into the recently adopted Copyright Directive rules which make it possible for works to be adapted for the visually impaired far more comprehensively and in a far more user-friendly format, encompassing even the possibility of exemptions from copyright.
We are conducting a pilot study in eight Member States on the use of the EU Disability Card. Our aim is to extend the benefits of mutual recognition to persons with a disability, who would be able to use the support services of any other Member State as if they were nationals of that state.
We have adopted rules under the Air Passenger Rights Regulation to prevent all types of discrimination in air transport and to provide a service which meets the specific requirements of persons with a disability and with reduced mobility.
There is still much to be done, even when it comes to ostensibly more straightforward matters, such as the provision of subtitled and audio-described TV programmes.
If we are to ensure genuine universal inclusion, however, we need to take action on a broad scale.
We need substantial investment to adapt our buildings and our facilities to the needs of persons with a disability.
The Member States must play their part and must use the budget flexibility rules for that purpose as well.
We must also channel far more EU funding into this area, by making intelligent use of the regional funds, European Investment Bank financing and support under the EU budget.
And we must also invest more in biomedical research, in order to foster mobility. We are the world leader in the area of medical devices, and we must work to maintain and build on that leadership.
These efforts must go hand in hand with measures to ensure that persons with a disability, who today represent one-sixth of the EU’s working age population, have a job.
Work means dignity, which is one of our fundamental values.
The Employment Equality Directive bans any form of discrimination in employment and guarantees equal conditions for everyone.
However, the employment rate for persons with a disability is still around twenty percentage points lower than for the able-bodied.
Last year, the European Parliament adopted a report which highlighted the fact that, in the context of the job market, the very definition of a person with a disability still varies enormously from one country to another.
The upshot is that the adaptations employers are required to make to guarantee non-discrimination likewise vary enormously.
This means, in turn, that a greater degree of harmonisation is needed at European level.
The Member States have a duty to comply with the European Equal Treatment Directive and, it is to be hoped, the relevant United Nations convention as well.
Among other things, the directive makes effective monitoring at the workplace compulsory.
To create jobs we need a strong real economy that generates opportunities for everyone, including persons with a disability.
Companies, public authorities and associations must work together to further that process through proactive employment policies, incentives and tax breaks, and through the more effective use of public procurement procedures.
Increased support is also needed for training and the development of the skills required on a labour market which is increasingly digital and undergoing wholesale change.
I want to assure you that the European Parliament will continue to keep a close eye on your rights.
Through our Disability Intergroup, which is one of the oldest Members’ groupings, we have always highlighted issues affecting persons with a disability, both in Parliament’s work and at Member State level.
Allow me to say a special word of thanks to my colleague Marek Plura for the great work he continues to do on promoting the integration of persons with a disability.
In 2015 we also set up a network of Members, chaired by my colleague Ádám Kosá, to guarantee the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The network comprises representatives of the 12 parliamentary committees and carries out awareness-raising and coordination work aimed at facilitating the implementation of the Convention.
I welcome the Commission’s drive to set up a European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education and an Academic Network of European Disability experts to feed suggestions to the Member States.
Thanks to the valuable work done by my colleague Helga Stevens, Parliament last week adopted a resolution on the European Disability Strategy.
The European Parliament’s position is clear: the time has come to mainstream the European Disability Strategy into all EU legislation and into the European Semester process.
In addition, we are calling for ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders with a view to drawing up the post-2020 strategy on disability – starting with you, and your organisations.
We are facing major challenges and far-reaching changes. Our citizens are worried about immigration, about security, about unemployment, about the environment. The digital revolution is changing the way we make things and the way we interact with others.
If we are to meet these challenges more effectively, we need reforms. Only in this way will we be able to offer coming generations a prosperous future. This is a vital reform process that must involve everyone. Everyone must have the possibility to contribute to it.
If, to paraphrase slightly, the motto of the European Disability Forum is ‘nothing about you without you’, then I would like to add the following words: ‘nothing about Europe without you’. In keeping with that sentiment, the European Parliament’s door is always open. I wish you every success in your work.