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The new European Parliament’s priorities for the disability sector

On such an important day such as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities [Dec 3], service providers from across Europe gathered together in the European Parliament and analysed with key European politicians the priorities for the disability sector during the next legislative term. EASPD Secretary General, Luk Zelderloo, moderated the session and presented the service providers’ views on the main issues regarding the disability sector: Mr. Juncker’s Jobs, Growth and Investment package [announced on Nov 26]; the need for a stronger social dimension in the European Semester, the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy, the work plan 2015-2020 of the European Disability Strategy and progress made in Europe regarding the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), in particular the transition from institutional to community-based services.

 

EASPD called the European Commission (EC) to use part of Mr. Juncker’s package to streamline EU Member States actions through a dedicated Communication on how to unlock the job creation potential in the social and health services sector and to reinforce the social dimension in its next country specific recommendations for 2015. EASPD also called on the EP and the EC to issue a study aiming to bring together the best examples of the partnership principle, where civil society and public authorities have come together to improve policy-making and to make sure that the Youth Guarantee can also help those most excluded from the labour market and in need of support to employment.

 

Representing the Liberals, Marian Harkin (IE/ALDE) stressed that “The European Parliament has the responsibility to look if inclusive growth is considered in the European Semester process in each country and to be proactive to demand a social dimension.” In that sense, she added that “we have to ensure that the country specific recommendations also take into account the social aspects and are the result of the evaluation of social outcomes”.

For its part, Ádám Kósa (HU/EPP) pointed out that during the last mandate only 4% of the structural funds were spent on disability but in Europe people with disabilities represent 10% of the population. He therefore mentioned that “the European Parliament could propose to invest a minimum of 10% of the EU social and structural funds for the disability sector”. He added that “Service providers and users are the driving forces to ensure a big change for persons with disabilities in Europe”. “The UN CRPD is not a magic tool but it can be used to ask for action. The European Parliament in cooperation with service providers can make sure that the funds are correctly spent”, he added.

 

Helga Stevens (BE/ECR) stressed the importance to make communities accessible for persons with disabilities to be able to offer an alternative to institutions. “We need to change mentality from specialised care to community-based care and that’s only possible if the society is barriers free. It is also a governmental responsibility: if individuals believe in inclusion, also persons with disabilities will benefit from equal opportunities”, she said.

 

From the EC, Inmaculada Placencia, stressed that one of the key topics for the disability sector in the coming years will be the correct use of EU funds. She said that “The European Disability Strategy (EDS) was set up to give time and stability in the implementation phase. The new EDS’s work plan will be issued in June, after the feedback from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. She added that “The EC gives greater importance to accessibility, as it is a precondition for persons with disabilities to enjoy all the other rights enshrined in the UN Convention”. Ms. Placencia also referred to the public procurement Directive: “we need to help procurers to do their work in the correct way informing them about accessibility requirements.”

 

EASPD is working on a shadow report including recommendations to speed up the implementation of the UN CRPD in Europe. One of the main demands is to consider, in the EDS, the crucial role played by social and health services in enabling many persons with disabilities to be fully included in society and to set up specific policies to support this process. For that, EASPD calls on EU institutions to finance the training of the authorities and staff involved in the management of the ESI Funds; to ensure that human rights standards become an ex ante and ex post criteria to all EU funding schemes and to improve the monitoring on the use of its funds in order to avoid any abuse and financing of institutions.

 

From the S&D group, Jutta Steinruck (DE/S&D) stressed that "It is essential that disability policies are not seen as a minor issue in social policies but that it is mainstreamed in all fields of policies. One of the priorities is therefore an effective protection from discrimination." 

In the same line, Jean Lambert (UK/Greens) said that the new parliamentary term should focus on active and social inclusion and on how to address imbalances and discrimination.  “The employment and social affairs committee will look more at how EU funds are used and whether in the European Semester there will be something on access to care. In that sense, care for persons with disabilities, especially persons with severe disabilities has not moved forward.”

 

EASPD President, Franz Wolfmayr, closed the session by presenting the EASPD annual strategy “Reaching out”. Mr. Wolfmayr stressed that “the mainstreaming aspects of the disability policy is at the heart of EASPD’s work”. For that reason, the multiannual strategy aims at developing a structural development of policies and actions by involving not only service providers, but also persons with disabilities, their families, other social sectors and new ways of funding.

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Nieves Tejada Castro, EASPD Communications Officer