The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
Top proposals include full harmonisation of the new agenda with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strengthened EU-level supervision of its application so as to ensure freedom from discrimination for people with disabilities and their acceptance as part of human diversity and humanity throughout the EU
The European Economic and Social Committee has put forward its recommendations for the EU's Disability Rights Agenda for the next decade, urging the European Commission to take them into account when drawing up the strategy that is bound to affect the lives of more than a hundred million people with disabilities living in Europe.
With the EU and all Member States having signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the EESC has called upon the Commission to ensure that the CRPD is addressed in its entirety in the 2020-2030 Disability Agenda.
The new strategy should also contain measures to fully implement the related UN Sustainable Development Goals and the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was lacking in the Disability Strategy in force since 2010.
The EESC presented the recommendations in an own-initiative opinion that was unanimously adopted at its plenary session on 11 December.
Addressing the plenary, the rapporteur for the opinion, Ioannis Vardakastanis, said: A lot has changed over the past ten years, meaning that the Disability Rights Agenda for the next decade must be far more ambitious than the strategy currently in place, particularly as regards monitoring and implementation, which must be substantially improved.
The EESC has put strong emphasis on ensuring that the implementation of the CRPD and of the Agenda are monitored at EU level. In the opinion, it strongly recommended that the Commission should establish "disability focal points" within all its directorates-general, agencies and EU institutions.
It was also of paramount importance to have a strong disability focal point in the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers to support the new Equality Commissioner. An interinstitutional mechanism for the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council to cooperate on disability should also be established. Setting up a working group on disability within the European Council would encourage this cooperation.
Sufficient human and financial resources should be provided to the current monitoring system for EU actions relating to the CRPD. The Commission should also review how EU institutions and Member States can work together to better include people with disabilities, by reviewing the existing Declaration of Competences and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the CRPD. These steps would allow for the EU to have a more decisive say when it comes to the compliance of Member States with the provisions of the CRPD.
The EESC also called for the mainstreaming of disability in all EU policies and legislation affecting the life of persons with disabilities. The Agenda should promote a society where diversity is a key value and in which the principles of non-discrimination, accessibility, participation and inclusion are fully upheld.
With more than half of all Europeans feeling that discrimination on the grounds of disability is widespread in the EU, the adoption of an anti-discrimination directive should be a priority. Such a directive should define any denial of reasonably accommodating persons with disabilities in any area of life as a form of discrimination, the EESC argued.
Free movement of persons with disabilities should be ensured by a directive that would establish common disability assessment standards in the EU. People with disabilities should be enabled to fully participate in the political life of their communities, by removing all obstacles that deprive them of their right to vote or to be politically active.
The Commission should create a European Access Board to monitor the implementation of EU laws providing for accessibility, as public spaces, buildings or transport still remain inaccessible for many persons with disabilities.
To fight the disproportionately low employment rate of persons with disabilities, the Commission should propose measures that would provide for reasonable workplace accommodations. These measures would stipulate what employers are obliged to offer and in turn what support they should get from their governments to make workplaces suitable for employees with disabilities.
To encourage the employment and training of people with disabilities, the EESC proposes a Disability Rights Guarantee, similar to the Youth Guarantee, to be agreed between Member States and EU institutions.
Benchmarks, measurable indicators and better data collection could also encourage better-targeted EU and national actions on disability rights and access.
The EESC also proposes that better use be made of the European Semester process by encouraging Member States to develop their own national disability strategies.
We still have a long way to go to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It's the EU’s obligation to do so, out of duty to more than a hundred million persons with disabilities in Europe, Mr Vardakastanis concluded.
The current Disability Strategy, adopted in 2010, aimed to promote a barrier-free Europe and equality of persons with disabilities. Despite many improvements and achievements, such as rules setting accessibility requirements for products and services and on rights for passengers with reduced mobility, the situation remains difficult for many people in the EU living with a disability.
Figures available indicate that they still face great inequalities. The gap between non-disabled and disabled employment rates is huge, totalling 24 percentage points, and rising with more severe levels of impairment. The rate of early school leaving for people with disabilities is double that of the general population, and these people are much more likely to live in poor households.
The situation is even worse for women and marginalised groups who often experience double or multiple discrimination.
The opinion presents the EESC's proposal for the new European Disability strategy 2020-2030, at a crucial moment in the EU landscape. With a new European Commission, a new European Parliament and a new budget programming period, the timing is perfect to come up with a Disability Strategy that fully takes into account the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD), the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The opinion tackles various policy areas, drawing attention to the crosscutting character of disability rights.
EESC opinion: Shaping the EU agenda for disability rights 2020-2030: a contribution from the European Economic and Social Committee (own-initiative opinion)
Now we have a golden opportunity to align the EU's next disability strategy with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
On 21 October, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a public hearing to gather input from grassroots organisations for its opinion on the EU's next ten-year strategy for disability rights and to draw the lessons from the agenda due to expire in 2020.