Documents considered by the Committee on 12 January 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

16 European Disability Strategy 2010-20



COM(10) 636

+ ADDs 1-2

Commission Communication: European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe

Commission staff working documents: Accompanying document (ADD 1) and Initial implementation plan for 2010-15 (ADD 2)

Legal base
Document originated15 November 2010
Deposited in Parliament18 November 2010
DepartmentWork and Pensions
Basis of considerationEM of 7 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


16.1 Disability did not feature in the EU Treaties until 1997 when the Amsterdam Treaty introduced a new Article providing for EU action to combat discrimination on a number of grounds, including disability.[69] The EU has competence to adopt legislative measures to combat discrimination, including on grounds of disability, but these must be agreed by unanimity in the Council of Ministers after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. The EU may also adopt, by a qualified majority, "incentive measures" which support action taken by Member States without harmonising national laws.

16.2 Article 10 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) is a mainstreaming provision which expressly requires the EU to seek to combat discrimination on disability (and other) grounds when "defining and implementing its policies and activities". Successive EU disability action plans have emphasised the need to consider disability in the context of other policy areas, notably transport, information and communications technology, and implementation of the Structural Funds.

16.3 The EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights includes provisions prohibiting discrimination on grounds of disability (Article 21) and recognising the right of people with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in community life (Article 26).

16.4 The EU Treaties do not define the term disability. However, the EU has signed and is expected shortly to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which provides the following definition:

"Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others" (Article 1)."

The Convention is a "mixed agreement" meaning that it covers a broad range of issues, some of which fall within the competence of Member States, some of which concern areas in which the EU and Member States share competence, and some of which fall within the EU's exclusive competence.[70] Implementing the commitments contained in the Convention is therefore a shared responsibility.

The Commission Communication

16.5 The purpose of the Communication is to define a new EU Disability Strategy for 2010-20, following the expiry of the EU's 2003-10 Disability Action Plan. The ten-year time span complements the Europe 2020 Strategy for Jobs and Growth which includes promoting social inclusion as one of its headline targets. The Commission says that people with disabilities are more likely to experience social exclusion because the incidence of poverty and unemployment is significantly higher than average and educational opportunities and rates of labour market participation are lower. According to the Commission:

"Full economic and social participation of people with disabilities is essential if the EU's Europe 2020 Strategy is to succeed in creating smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Building a society that includes everyone also brings market opportunities and fosters innovation. There is a strong business case for making services and products accessible to all … Policy and regulatory frameworks do not reflect the needs of people with disabilities adequately, neither do product and service development. Many goods and services, as well as much of the built environment, are still not accessible enough."[71]

16.6 The principal focus of the Strategy is to eliminate barriers which prevent people with disabilities from reaping the social and economic benefits of the Single Market and exercising their EU citizenship rights. The Strategy identifies eight main areas for action, each accompanied by an overarching EU-level objective. These are:

  • Accessibility — ensuring that people with disabilities have access to goods and services, including public services, in their physical environment and in key areas such as transport, information and communication and related technologies;
  • Participation — ensuring full and equal participation in all aspects of economic and social life, including through the exercise of EU citizenship rights and access to cultural, recreational and other activities and to good quality community-based care and services;
  • Equality — combating all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability;
  • Employment — improving employment opportunities;
  • Education and training — ensuring that the necessary support is available to facilitate education and lifelong learning;
  • Social protection — ensuring decent living conditions through access to disability-related assistance and social protection systems;
  • Health — ensuring equal access to health care and services; and
  • External action — promoting the rights of people with disabilities in the EU's external action.

16.7 A Commission staff working document accompanying the Communication (ADD 2) sets out well over a hundred "key actions", some already underway, which are intended to implement the first phase of the Strategy, up until 2015. Most of these concern actions to be taken by the Commission, including within EU institutions, but others seek to support or supplement action taken at national level. Relatively few would require new legislation at EU level. However, the Commission says that it will consider the need for a "European Accessibility Act" which would establish a general framework for accessibility to goods and services, for example, by setting EU standards to make it easier to trade across borders. Other ideas include:

  • exploiting the EU's role in standard-setting to develop EU standards on accessibility and including these in the EU's rules on public procurement;
  • promoting an EU-wide market for assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and large-print keyboards, to stimulate competition and reduce costs;
  • establishing a European award for accessible cities;
  • considering the feasibility of mutual recognition of disability cards and related entitlements;
  • using EU Structural and Rural Development Funds to support the independence of disabled people within the community and to promote their labour market integration;
  • promoting lifelong learning for disabled people which fosters opportunities for employment or self-employment;
  • developing active labour market policies and making work places more accessible for people with disabilities, with a view to increasing their rate of employment;
  • targeting financial support from the European Social Fund to concrete actions designed to reduce social exclusion;
  • supporting inclusive and high quality education and opportunities for mobility through the EU's Youth on the Move initiative;
  • developing guidance for employers and service providers on the concept of "reasonable accommodation";
  • promoting high quality and sustainable social protection systems through policy exchange and mutual learning;
  • promoting equal access to health care and the provision of adequate rehabilitation services; and
  • raising disability issues in dialogues with non-EU countries and in international fora.

16.8 The Commission says that it will seek to underpin all the actions proposed to implement the Strategy by raising awareness of disability issues and the rights of people with disabilities; by mandating the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency to collect and analyse data on disability; and by ensuring optimum use of EU funding mechanisms to promote accessibility and non-discrimination. The Commission will also establish a monitoring framework to track progress in implementing the UN Convention and propose a governance framework setting out the responsibilities of various EU institutions or bodies for its implementation.

The Government's view

16.9 The Minister for Disabled People at the Department for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller) welcomes the Communication which "is broadly aligned with the UK vision of achieving equality for disabled people" and with the UN Convention. She says that the UK ratified the Convention in July 2009 and EU ratification is expected in December. She adds:

"Arrangements around the relationship of Member State and EU responsibilities for the UN Convention, including reporting, monitoring and representational arrangements have been the subject of detailed negotiation with Member States and a Code of Conduct has been agreed, which secured UK objectives. The UK will continue to guard against any Commission pretensions to a greater role in monitoring or implementation than the Code and Member State responsibilities for implementation of, and the policy areas covered by, the Convention allow."[72]

16.10 The Minister endorses the eight priority areas identified in the Communication and indicates how they complement existing UK policies. For example, she says that the Government supports the Commission's proposals to promote the equal treatment of disabled people through EU legislation and active policies to combat discrimination and agrees that the Disability Strategy should exploit the full potential of the Europe 2020 Strategy by seeking to eliminate barriers to employment. The Government also welcomes the focus on inclusive education and lifelong learning and on ensuring good quality and sustainable social protection systems for disabled people. She notes that better systems for collecting and analysing data will make it easier to identify the incidence of disability hate crime.

16.11 The Minister also makes clear that the detailed actions proposed to implement the Disability Strategy will be subject to further discussion and agreement with Member States and will be carefully considered by the Government for their compliance with the principle of subsidiarity. She adds:

"As is to be expected given the diversity of approaches and different starting points of Member States, some like the UK have taken steps to actively integrate disability issues into policies development and delivery but others have not. In some Member States therefore significant work may still be required to achieve effective and strategic mainstreaming of disability issues in national policy development. Since 2008, the EU Disability High Level Group has identified potential areas for cooperation to reinforce the current EU Disability Action Plan, and achieve full compliance with the substantive provisions of the UN Convention. The Strategy has an expectation of co-operation between Member States and between Member States and the EU which may add value where, for example, best practice can be shared. But the UK will resist any activity which is burdensome, and as indicated above, legislative proposals will be considered against the subsidiarity principle."[73]


16.12 We note that the Disability Strategy is intended to support efforts at EU and national level to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with the focus of EU action being to remove barriers which prevent people with disabilities from reaping the social and economic benefits of the Single Market and to secure the full enjoyment of EU citizenship rights. We welcome the link made to the EU's Europe 2020 Strategy and to policies contained therein to promote social inclusion and better educational and employment opportunities.

16.13 The Strategy and accompanying Commission working documents demonstrate that much needs to be done to improve the social and economic situation of people with disabilities and that progress can only be made by mobilising Member States and other actors. We note that the EU has limited competence in some of the priority areas for action identified in the Strategy — for example, health, education and social protection — making it difficult to discern in some cases where the boundary between EU and national action lies. While welcoming the Strategy, we also agree with the Minister that specific proposals to implement it which require action at EU level should be carefully examined to ensure that they do not exceed the powers conferred on the EU by the Treaties and that they comply with the subsidiarity principle. Meanwhile, we are content to clear the Communication from scrutiny.

69   Formerly Article 13 of the EC Treaty, now to be found in Article 19 TFEU. Back

70   The division of competences is set out in Annex II of Council Decision 2010/48/EC which authorises the EU to accede to the UN Convention. See also HC 19-i (2008-09), chapter 10 (10 December 2008) and HC 19-xxxi (2008-09), chapter 5 (11 November 2009). Back

71   See page 4 of the Communication. Back

72   See paragraphs 21 and 22 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

73   See paragraph 20 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

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