European Parliament of Disabled People

by Rodolfo Cattani

Preparing for the third edition which will take place in November 2012.

In 1993 and 2003 took place the first two editions of the European Parliament of Disabled People. The first event was organized under the initiative of the European Commission within the scope of the HELIOS Program which came even before the foundation of the European Disability Forum. It was a very important event, because it did justice to the invisible among the invisible, but the movement was not sufficiently organized and aware, so no particularly significant documents or proposals have arisen from it.
The 2003 edition was much more relevant. That year was celebrated the European Year of Persons with Disabilities and the tenth anniversary of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities by the United Nations, the most valid result of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1993).
More than 300 delegates representing people of all disabilities from 28 European countries and with equitable gender and geographical distribution met at Mid-Point of the European Parliament. The Parliament itself supported the initiative offering logistic assistance. Numerous parliamentarians participated with interest in the manifestation, which was a historical opportunity for persons with disabilities to share their political claims and to obtain the recognition of their own rights.
At the end of the event many resolutions were approved as well as the launch of the manifesto on the right of disabled people to European elections, as voters as well as candidates.
That same year, the European Commission launched the Disability Action Plan 2003-2010 and the results of the debate in Parliament contributed in bringing light to the basic demands of the movement: issuing general legislation against discrimination to be included in the Union's Treaties, a specific directive against discrimination of persons with disabilities in every situation of their life and their active participation in all decisions that concern them. A lot was expected from the insertion of Art. 14 in the Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty of the European Union, which was approved in the form of an ulterior agreement.
Undoubtedly, both editions of the "Parliament" were of great importance because they contributed to shape the cultural basis for inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in the social context, such as was the concluding manifestation of the campaign aimed at gathering one million signatures to obtain the proposal for a directive on discrimination, which would have a political impact without precedent.
The reversal of the model
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified by the European Union on December 23rd, 2010. It ratified the so-called "reversal of the model", which is the approach to disability based on basic rights and not on the traditional vision based on assistance and solidarity. As a matter of fact, the Convention obligates the State Members

Picture - Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Disability Forum

Picture - Adam Kosa, President of the Disability Intergroup

to actively involve persons with disabilities in the process of fulfilment of the new model which requires an innovative conception of the policy on disability. The European Parliament has always been particulary heedful to the requirements of our movement. The European Disability Forum has therefore turned to it President Jerzy Buzek to organize together a new edition of the European Parliament of Disabled People. Since January 2011, the European Parliament has a new President, Martin Schultz, with whom contacts have already been made.
In the actual financial crisis and recession, persons with disabilities are greatly affected in most Member States and it appears essential to reintroduce a progressist policy, which risks being restrained by economic situation. The disability movement wants to assert with strength that the fundamental rights are inviolable and that governments cannot go against the weakest among the weak. As a matter of fact, persons with disabilities pay the price just as much as other citizens, but it is unfair that they should be penalized twice for cuts on economic support and service offering.
At the European Parliament, the Disability Intergroup works on issues relating to disabilities and its President, Adam Kosa, has extended to his colleagues the invitation to support with funds they have the participation of disabled delegates in their respective countries.
The European Parliament of Disabled People will take place in November 2012. Delegates will take a seat in the venue where plenary sessions will take place and discuss procedural rules for representatives for debate and voting. Sessions will be presided over jointly by parliamentarians and leaders of the Forum.
The political issues that will be discussed

and brought to the attention of the European Institutions are this year more important than ever.
Firstly, they will assess the state of implementation of the UN Convention at the European Union level and by Member States. In light of the Convention, will be launched the campaign on the mobility of persons with disabilities within the EU, with all the consequences on access to services and transfer of rights and provisions. There are other issues that are as important in relation to the implementation of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: the adoption of a European Disability Pact; the enhanced value of the "State of the Union on Disability", a long term initiative that anticipates closer consultation and more regular meetings between EU Institutions and the European Forum on Disability; the adoption of a measure relating to the accessibility of websites with a specific regulating act.
It is clear that the matter of the Convention will be dominant, also because soon the European Union will have to present to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities the first report on its application.
Finally, delegates will have to face the pressing issue of the impact of the economic crisis on persons with disabilities, which may jeopardize dramatically the achievements of the last few years obtained after much courageous struggles and great sacrifices. The European Disability Forum has established an observatory to study the phenomenon, gather data and formulate operative proposals.
The European Parliament of Disabled People 2012 will have to mark an ulterior step forward for the disability movement in Europe.

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