A delegation of the European Disability Forum met with President of the European Commission Barroso in Brussels on 31 May 2011. This was the opportunity to discuss the next steps for disability in the EU.
The outcomes were successful: Mr. Barroso endorses the State of the Union on Disability, and committed to ensuring the right enforcement of the UN Convention throughout the European Commission. Finally, the President promised to put pressure on national authorities to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities during times of crisis. Mr Jose Manuel Barroso recognised that the European Disability Forum is the primary representative to the European Institutions. A part from the President, the disability movement was represented by its Vice President, Erzsebet Földesi, its Secretary Rodolfo Cattani, and Director, Javier Güemes. They successfully brought 3 important issues to the table:
1. The State of the Union on Disabilities
Barroso agreed to endorse “The State of the Union on Disability‟; an important instrument for improving the lives of persons with disabilities, envisaged by the disability movement. Presidents of both the European Council and the European Parliament Van Rompuy and Buzek had already granted their support. The State of the Union on Disability will gather the presidents of the three institutions and EDF to discuss policy developments and disability issues across the EU. The State of the Union will be a biennial meeting to start before the end of 2011.
2. UN Convention: from words to deeds
The next topic on the agenda dealt with the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities. The conclusion of the Convention by the EU, which took place late last year, was a landmark achievement for the disability movement. During the discussion Barroso committed to ensuring the appropriate follow up of the Convention within the European Commission.
Explicitly, this will be brought to the College of Commissioners and the plenary of the Directorate Generals.
3. The crisis: emergency exit
A further, disquieting issue that EDF addressed were the very serious consequences of the austerity measures for persons with disabilities. On this, Barroso promised to safeguard their rights using the relevant tools: Europe 2020, the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs and the European Platform Against Poverty, and the Disability Strategy 2010 – 2020. Cuts in social expenditure are taking place across the EU, yet the Commission has vowed to remind Member
States of their obligations towards the most vulnerable groups of society. He stressed the need to combat the negative portrayal of disabled people that occurs in dire situations. EDF wants to make sure 80 million persons with disabilities are not the first to pay for the crisis.
Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF President stresses: “the European Disability Forum is satisfied with this new impetus: Bridging the gap between words and deeds is crucial. To this end, we welcome these strong political commitments, but the importance lies in delivering on them. This meeting has opened up new opportunities for cooperation between the European Commission and the European disability movement.”