EU-wide disability card gets the green light

In one of the last votes of this term, the European Parliament has given the green light to the adoption of an EU-wide disability card and a European parking card for persons with disabilities.

Priority entry, mobility aid or personal assistance at cultural and sport events are currently not granted for people with disabilities travelling around the countries of the European Union because different rules and disability cards exist in EU member states.

The European Commission therefore proposed last year to introduce a disability card recognised across the EU.

The card will grant special treatment in transport, culture and sport events in other EU member states at the same conditions as citizens of the country visited.

New rules will also apply to non-EU citizens residing in the EU, including asylum-seekers and stateless persons and their personal assistants.

Equal treatment

One in four people in the European Union, about 87 million, have some form of disability, according to the Commission. At present, the definition of disability, the recognition of such status and the provision of related benefits are decided at country level without mutual recognition between EU member states.

Despite having the right to move freely within the EU, the Commission considered that such differences discourage or prevent people from travelling across borders. The European disability card was proposed to overcome such difficulties.

The EU card will be issued by national authorities in addition to their own and will be available both in digital and physical format. It will be issued and renewed free of charge, except in cases of loss or damage.

Each country will continue to make its own rules and establish its own benefit system, but these will apply also to European disability card holders in the country for a short stay. Card holders will thus benefit from reduced fees, free and priority entry, personal assistance, support services such as braille and audio guides, and mobility aid in the member states they visit at similar conditions of citizens of those countries.

“The proposal is an extra push to ensure freedom of movement for all… Disability rights should transcend national border,” said Commissioner for equality Helena Dalli.

Slovak MEP Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, who was in charge of the file, said in parliament: “People with disabilities have been fighting for this agreement for 15 years”. She added that “the significance of the European disability card extends beyond simply facilitating travel; it embodies the EU’s commitment to ensuring free movement for all Europeans.”

The new rules will only apply for short stays and for people participating in a mobility programme such as Erasmus+. It will not be possible to use the card for issues related to employment, social security or social assistance benefits.

Pilot project

Eight EU countries – Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malta, Romania and Slovenia – have already voluntarily tested the card in the areas of culture, leisure, sport and transport as part of a pilot project that run between 2016 and 2018.

As a result, the Belgian government decided to issue automatically the European and the national card as of 1st January 2024.

European parking card

The Parliament also agreed to the introduction of a European parking card recognised across the EU. This will allow people with disabilities to have the same parking rights in the EU countries they visit, currently also undermined by different national regulations.

In this case, EU member states will be required to replace previous parking cards with the new one, available in physical form. EU countries will have the option to issue the card in a digital format and may charge a fee to cover the administrative costs.

Employment still a challenge

Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum, an umbrella organisation representing disability groups in Brussels, welcomed new rules. “The European disability card will ease the daily lives of persons with disabilities visiting another country and strengthen our sense of European citizenship,” he said.

The group was hoping that the card could also be used to “facilitate our rights to live and work anywhere in the EU, as other citizens have”. “Having to have your disability ‘re-assessed’ when moving abroad puts an undue burden on persons with disabilities, not to mention that it is an affront to our dignity. Our disability does not disappear when we cross borders,” Vardakastanis argued.

After the formal adoption of the text by the Council, which repressents EU governments, member states will have 2.5 years to adapt their national legislation and 3.5 years to apply the directive.

The European Disability Forum was disappointed that, while the political content of the directive was adopted, delays with language translations meant that a final procedural vote will be necessary after the European elections, thus delaying the publication of the text and the start of the “countdown to implementation”.

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street News © all rights reserved

This article was adapted on 18 May 2024 from a text initially published on 10 September 2023. Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

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