The European Pillar of Social Rights

The EU seeks to review its social policy... forgetting people with disabilities
Rodolfo Cattani

From consensus to dissent

People no longer have the confidence in the EU they once had. The Eurosceptic or even euro hostile groups are gaining broad acceptance beyond all expectations. There is no confidence in the present, there is a fear for the future and disappointment with the inefficiency of the institutions and the bureaucratic system and the fact that politicians are failing to curb the irrational adherence to populist and nationalist movements. The economic crisis has dealt a severe blow to the already fragile EU economy, exacerbating inequities and social inequalities, overwhelming the sense of belonging and solidarity, arousing xenophobia and racism in the most vulnerable and less educated population. Should we therefore speak of the disintegration of the EU? There are, of course, many elements of weakness: the lack of solutions to almost all transnational problems, the lack of democracy at both national and European levels, the involution of state policies and the conflicts between socio-economic and geographical areas, the financial and economic crisis, culminating with the constraints of austerity. Add to this the absence of effective policies to tackle unemployment and to promote employment growth and sustainable development. One European citizen out of four today is experiencing the risk of poverty or social exclusion, that means 122.3 million people. This crisis does not occur equally among Member States. As a matter of fact, the gap tends to widen: in Romania and Bulgaria 40% of the population is at risk of poverty, in Greece 37%; but in Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic only less than 20%. Since 2008, the living conditions in 12 Member States have deteriorated and the gap between rich and poor has widened.

The European Pillar of Social Rights poster

Reviving social rights

In this context of devastation of the social model, the European Commission has put together a new project, for now limited to the euro zone, with the intent of reviving the promotion of social rights in the EU policy. What is called the European Pillar of Social Rights is divided into three main categories: - Equal opportunities and access to the labour market; - Fair working conditions; - Adequate and sustainable social protection. We should immediately point out the limited scope of the project which focuses on the economic and employment context, to the detriment of the fight against poverty and inequality, the rise of which is increasingly precarious for the stability of the Union. What is particularly sobering is the lack of political ambition. In order to have a significant and constructive impact, the project should create a paradigm shift which would change the current macroeconomic model, explicitly placing people before markets and developing a strategy based on social rights, ceasing austerity measures, and supporting public investment in social programs. This would contribute to closing the economic and income gap between Member States and within them and promote equitable distribution policies based on decent working conditions, and plans for social protection and services financed by a progressive taxation system, ensuring targeted allocation of European funds.

Peace, democracy and prosperity

Europe, born from the ashes of war, was to promote peace, democracy and common prosperity. The pillar of social rights will make sense if it can reaffirm those ideals on which are based human and social rights together with democratic freedoms. To give back strength and credibility to the European project, it is necessary to change the economic model and create a European instrument of solidarity, which would give life to a European reality based on the values of human dignity, social and environmental sustainability, the promotion of culture and the universality of human rights.

Inclusion of persons with disabilities

The EU institutions are aware that persons with disabilities are particularly at risk of poverty and social exclusion because of the macroeconomic and discriminatory model dominating the market. It therefore seems incomprehensible to note in the pillar of social rights the absence of specific references to measures promoting and defending the human and social rights of persons with disabilities who, in the competitive society we live in, experience a significant deficit of opportunities and a high risk of discrimination. For this reason, the European Disability Forum, while welcoming the proposal, stressed that the European Union, by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has taken on the specific obligations concerning the right to equal opportunities and the elimination of discriminatory barriers. Both the EU and the Member States which have ratified the Convention have an obligation to promote and defend the rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and legislative initiatives. A fundamental principle which derives from the convention is the involvement of representative organizations of persons with disabilities in all legislative and decision-making processes.

European Disability Forum

What we are asking

The European Disability Forum calls on the European Commission to take into consideration the following proposals: - Integrate the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of the social pillar in light of human rights and obligations of EU and Member States under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; - Specify the legal nature of the social pillar and ensure that the legal and political instruments in force are incorporated in the final text; - Specify how the project implementation will be monitored and provide the appropriate means of verification at EU and Member States levels; - Broaden the scope of the initiative beyond the euro zone, also including among the beneficiaries migrants and refugees; - Promote and monitor the implementation of the right to consultation and participation of representative organizations of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the pillar at both European and national levels; - Integrate explicitly in the pillar the rights of women and girls, particularly those with disabilities; - Ensure social protection and basic minimum income to empower disabled persons out of poverty and exclusion; - Guarantee freedom of movement of persons with disabilities and the transferability of services in Member States; - Prevent and combat the negative effects of austerity and regressive policies on the living conditions of persons with disabilities. If these proposals were accepted, the European Disability Forum would make sure to work collaboratively towards the realization of this project.



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