On 24 March, the EESC hosted a debate with the EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, on the new Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities, recently launched by the European Commission.

The strategy, which is to be in place from 2021 to 2030, seeks to ensure full implementation in the EU of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The UNCRPD is a breakthrough treaty which has changed the perception of disability by embracing a human rights approach to it and giving society responsibility for removing the barriers preventing the people concerned being fully included in society.

"We welcome the new EU Disability Strategy. Some 87 million people in the EU have some form of disability, and more than half of them feel discriminated against," said EESC president, Christa Schweng in her opening remarks.

She reminded that the EESC was the first institution to adopt an own-initiative opinion in 2019 calling for a new Disability Rights Agenda fully aligned with the UNCRPD:  "I am very pleased to see that many of the recommendations we put forward at the time are reflected in the EU Disability Strategy proposed a few weeks ago."

The EESC insisted on full implementation of the UNCRPD, both in its opinions and through the work of its thematic study group on disability rights, set up to monitor how the UNCRPD is put into effect in the Member States.

The opinion on Shaping the EU agenda for disability rights 2020-2030 is not the EESC's only text on this issue: it has adopted several others as well, such as the information report and the opinion on the right of persons with disabilities to vote in European Parliament elections. The EESC will analyse the new strategy in a new opinion, to be presented at its plenary session in July.

"Ten years after the EU ratified the UNCRPD, it is now high time to scale up European action in the field of disability policies. Our goal is to bring positive changes to the lives of persons with disabilities in the EU and beyond so they can participate on an equal basis with others with no exception," said Commissioner Dalli.

EESC members spoke favourably of the new strategy, but warned that, when implementing it, the EU and Member States must take into account the devastating effects of the pandemic on persons with disabilities, especially in the field of employment and education, as existing inequality was getting worse. (ll)