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The European Union Disability Strategy

In pursuance of the United Nations Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, the Commission adopted a new strategy in this regard and it is set out in its Communication on "Equality of Opportunity for People with Disabilities - A New Community Disability Strategy 1996". The latter has been politically endorsed in a Resolution of the Council of Ministers in December 1996. Reflecting the New Policy Framework advocated by the UN Standard Rules, this strategy stresses the need for a renewed approach focusing upon the identification and removal of the various barriers preventing disabled people from achieving equality of opportunity and full participation in all aspects of social life.

Since primary responsibility for action rests with the Member States, the Community Disability Strategy is concerned to bring as much added value to the process of reflection and change along the following lines :

Strengthening the co-operation between and with the Member States

With full respect for subsidiarity, the EU action can play a role in establishing better co-operation between Member States and fostering the effectiveness of their disability policies by promoting exchange of good practice , improving the collection and the use of comparative information on disability issues across Europe and the identification of effective policy solutions.

Towards this end, the Commission has set up a High Level Group of Member States' Representatives on Disability. The purpose of this group is to keep under review the latest policies and priorities of governments concerning people with disabilities, to pool information and experience, and to advise on methods for reporting on the EC-wide situation with regard to disability in future. The High Level Group places a particular focus on the implementation within the Member States of the Resolution of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council of 20 December 1996 on Equality of opportunity for people with disabilities.

In order to improve the common understanding of the various Member States policies for people with disabilities, the High Level Group has edited a Compendium which provides for each Member State an outline of its organisational arrangements on disability policy, its main action plans as well as the co-operation and consultation structures set up for the involvement of disability organisations in policy planning and implementation.

The institution each year of a dedicated 'European Day of Disabled People' also provides a very positive contribution to raising awareness and to giving a European dimension to co-operation in this field.

Increasing the participation of people with disabilities

An important point of principle flows from the above mentioned values, namely, that all strategic thinking about changes in our societies and about timely adjustments in policy should incorporate the experience of people with disabilities. The Commission has been greatly encouraged by the active interest and participation of a wide range of disability organisations in the European-wide process of co-operation, and by the wide recognition of the 'added value' of European support. It has taken steps to offer disability organisations greater access to information as well as more avenues for participation, in particular in providing support to the European Disability Forum which brings together disability organisations from all Member States representing the vast majority of disability interests in the EU.

Budget line B3-4111 also enables the European Commission to implement measures to support representative European organisations that are active in the field of equal opportunities for disabled people and are in charge of co-ordinating their own network and for the support of exchange and information activities aiming preventing and combating discrimination against disabled people. This budget line aims at anticipating the new Community approach with regard to the fight against discrimination which the Commission intends to pursue in the future.

Involving the Social Partners as key players in the efforts to integrate the efforts to integrate disabled people in the labour market and in employment is also one of the main thrust of the new disability strategy.  At the meeting of the Social Dialogue Committee on 19 May 1999, the social partners adopted a Joint Declaration on the Employment of people with disabilities.

Mainstreaming Disability in Policy Formulation

The Communication stresses the need for a new approach which focuses on the identification and removal of the various barriers preventing disabled people from achieving equality of opportunity and full participation in all aspects of life. In this respect, the Commission has committed itself to review its socio-economic policies, programmes and projects to determine the extent to which they address the needs, rights and concerns of people with disabilities and to develop a disability component in their socio-economic policies, programmes and projects.

Towards this end, the Commission has taken steps to strengthen its own internal machinery and engaged all relevant Directorates-General in an Inter Service Disability Group. The purpose of the group is to raise awareness of disability issues and encourage more inter-sectoral co-operation within the Commission in this field. 21 Directorates-General and Commission Services are currently represented within the Interservice Group. They are meeting on a regular basis, exchanging information and developing proposals for better cross-sector co-operation.