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News Story:

European Disability Strategy


On 21 September, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) approved two opinions to enforce the fundamental rights of EU citizens and combat the exclusion of people with disabilities. Following the Treaty of Lisbon, the Charter of Fundamental Rights has become primary legislation, and the EU must react accordingly.
During its September plenary session, the EESC gave the green light to two opinions, on the "European Disability Strategy 2010-2020" and on the "Strategy for the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Both texts are intended to combat discrimination and social exclusion in Europe and defend the fundamental rights of EU citizens. Furthermore, the EESC warns against any cuts in social expenditure due to austerity measures in times of crisis.
Strategy for the effective implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights
"It is time to defend citizens' rights at EU level. The implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights offers a unique opportunity to bring fundamental rights into the mainstream in the EU Institutions", said Gabriele Bischoff, rapporteur of the EESC's opinion and Member of the Employees' Group.
The EESC wants to strengthen the culture of fundamental rights at EU level and ensure that the Charter is observed also at national level, in particular in respect of social rights. Furthermore, the EESC believes that the legally-binding obligation to promote fundamental rights must lead to concrete activities. Citizens should be aware of their new rights under EU legislation.
"It is of the utmost importance that the participatory aspect of civil society be given a major boost when implementing the Charter of Fundamental Rights", added Cristian Pīrvulescu, co-rapporteur of the EESC's opinion and Member of the Other Interests' Group.
European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a
Barrier-Free Europe
"One sixth of Europeans is a person with disabilities, and 70% are among the poorest persons in Europe. The disability strategy presented by the European Commission is a step in the right direction for persons with disabilities. On the whole, the Commission proposes a new approach to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by the EU in December 2010, therefore legally binding. If fully implemented, the strategy could be of benefit to 80 million Europeans with disabilities", said Ioannis Vardakastanis, rapporteur of the EESC's opinion and Greek Member of the Other Interests' Group.
The EESC calls for the development of effective instruments to implement the UN Convention including the creation of a Disability Committee in the EU. The EESC is determined to extend the legal protection of the rights of persons with disabilities beyond the field of employment. Issues relating to disability must always be taken into account when developing and implementing social legislation and policies. Furthermore, a barrier-free Europe must be achieved through the adoption of a European Accessibility Act and the accessibility of public sector websites by 2015.