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28th Feb 2024

MEPs demand fewer barriers for disabled people moving in the EU

  • MEPs proposed that the country of origin should pay social protection while a disabled person is being re-assessed in the EU country to which they move (Photo: European Commission)
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EU lawmakers on Thursday (11 January) agreed on new rules aimed at improving the rights of people with disabilities when travelling to another member state.

In September 2023, the European Commission proposed a directive to create a disability card, which would ensure that disability status is recognised in all EU countries, giving people with disabilities the same access to services and benefits as the country's nationals.

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"With the adoption of this crucial piece of legislation, persons with disabilities are one step closer to having freedom of movement within the EU," said Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, a Renew Europe MEP who is negotiations for the European Parliament's, after the vote in the employment committee.

MEPs proposed that the card should be free and issued no later than 60 days after it is requested — but they also want to go further than the EU executive, which focused on short-term stays rather than living situations.

"In our treaties, when we promised the EU citizens that they can move freely from one member state to another, this is basically only about the wealthy ones and the healthy ones, not about persons with disabilities who have to dig into their pockets," Ďuriš Nicholsonová told EUobserver in an interview.

The EU parliament is trying to widen the scope of the directive in this sense, proposing that a disabled person who moves abroad to study or work should not lose benefits and social protection while their disability is being reassessed.

If the country of origin continues to support them during the transitional period, there would no longer be such a huge financial barrier to benefiting from freedom of movement, as the extra costs of having a disability in countries such as the Netherlands or Denmark can reach an average of around €20,000 per year.

"EU citizens with disabilities essentially rely on the goodwill of individual countries when they move abroad because existing EU legislation on social security coordination is insufficient," Haydn Hammersley, social policy coordinator of the European Disability Forum (EDF), told EUobserver last September.

However, the area of social protection could be a deal-breaker in the trilogue negotiations between MEPs and national ministers, and the Renew MEP's priority is to get the legislation adopted as soon as possible.

"We knew from the very beginning that if we go too far from the scope of the commission's proposal, this might not end well," she commented.

Around 87 million people in the EU have some form of disability, and for Ďuriš Nicholsonová this is just a first step in a long discussion that needs to continue to push for wider changes so that disabled people can enjoy equal rights.

"Let's make a border-free Europe a reality for people with disabilities," said centre-right MEP David Casa. "That means better opportunities for EU citizens with disabilities and good news for our economy with an increased and more mobile workforce."

EU ministers agreed on their position in November 2023, and inter-institutional negotiations will begin on the dossier in the coming weeks.

Two trilogue meetings have been scheduled for 25 January and 8 February — and they are expected to be the only ones in what could be the fastest legislative process in EU history.

The parliament has also asked for a reduction of the 2.5-year implementation period for the cards, while ministers want to extend it to four years.

"We now ask for a strong and speedy agreement that ensures persons with disabilities can use these Cards as soon as possible," Yannis Vardakastanis, the EDF's president, urged.

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