[/ Equinet summarizes the discussions that took place at the Policy Dialogue on “The Accessibility Act – Ensuring access to goods and services across the EU” on 11 October 2012 in Brussels. /]
[/ In the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 the European Commission proposed to use legislative and other instruments to optimise accessibility for persons with disabilities and the elderly, and raised the possibility of adopting a “business-friendly” proposal to improve the proper functioning of the internal market for accessible goods and services. On 11 October the European Policy Centre and the European Disability Forum organised, in cooperation with Oracle, a policy dialogue meeting on the proposed Accessibility Act. Participating stakeholders as well as representatives of the European Commission discussed issues such as the possible content of the proposal and the obstacles it may encounter.
After conducting a public consultation at the end of 2011 and early 2012, the Commission is now preparing its proposal which will be adopted early 2013. What is already known is first and foremost that the legal basis and thus also the main focus of the act will not be anti-discrimination and human rights but the single market and free movement of accessible goods and services as well as of persons, whether with disabilities, elderly, or not. In the context of the current financial crisis this focus on the single market takes the stand that the 80 million persons with disabilities living in the EU constitute a largely unused resource as regards users of goods and services, and therefore gives an important potential to providers of goods and services to develop their activities.
Keeping in mind the difficulties encountered throughout the legislative procedure by the proposed “horizontal” Directive, the legal basis of this new proposal will of course facilitate its adoption due to the ordinary legislative procedure (former co-decision) and the rule of the qualified majority vote in the Council. However, regrets were expressed at the meeting regarding the missed opportunity to recognise the rights of persons with disabilities as such, and not as a derived form of the right to freedom of movement within the single market.
Regarding the material scope and content of the upcoming proposal not much is yet known, however many concerned stakeholders expressed the necessity of adopting a broad yet sufficiently clear definition of ‘accessibility’, preferably using that of Article 9 of the UNCRPD. The importance of according a broad, all-inclusive scope to the proposal was also seen as crucial, as was the provision of effective enforcement mechanisms so as to ensure the implementation and effective impact of the future act. The importance of proposing and adopting legislation without delay is underlined by the risk of major inconsistencies between the Member States’ plans for implementation of the UNCRPD unless the EU imposes common standards.
The complexity of this proposal which covers many different policy areas in different ways will not simplify its adoption, however crucial and urgent it may be.