Lawmakers struck a deal on an EU-wide standardised disability card which will allow people with disabilities to enjoy the same benefits and facilities in public and private services throughout Europe – but it will not come into effect within three and a half years.
Under the new rules, agreed by MEPs and EU ministers on Thursday (8 February), the disabled will receive a document vouchsafing their condition across the EU, ensuring equal access to special conditions and preferential treatment such as reduced or zero entry fees, priority access, and reserved parking spaces.
The scope of the card will include transport services – albeit with some exceptions – as well as cultural events, museums, leisure and sports centres, and amusement parks.
Lawmakers also agreed to improve the existing European Parking Card, which will from now carry the same standard design, making it valid across Europe, replacing the patchwork of national cards currently issued by local authorities.
The overall deal “marks a transformative step towards a more accessible and equitable society”, according to Belgian Minister for Disabilities and Social Affairs Karine Lalieux. “It reaffirms the EU’s commitment to fostering inclusivity for all citizens within our diverse Union,” she said.
In 2022, 101 million people over the age of 16 within the bloc had some form of disability, Eurostat estimated. Another EU statistical service survey found 21.1% of EU citizens with disabilities aged 16 and over faced a risk of poverty in 2021, compared with 14.9 % of able bodied.
Between 2016 and 2018, eight EU countries – Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, and Romania – participated in a successful pilot project for a European Disability Card which convinced the European Commission to export the concept and the executive tabled a proposal last September.
Lawmakers boosted the original proposal by agreeing to make receipt and renewal of the European Disability Card free of charge except when lost or damaged.
They also amended the law to create a website available in all EU languages and in accessible formats to provide relevant information on both the European Disability Card and the European Parking Card.
The European Disability Forum, which campaigned for the card for more than a decade, hailed the deal as “a momentous victory for the disability movement”. “We expect this card to be well implemented and that it becomes a cornerstone for citizens with disabilities’ full inclusion in the European project,” said EDF President Yannis Vardakastanis.
The implementation period agreed by lawmakers drew criticism from civil society however, being considered too long. Member states will have 30 months to adapt and a further 12 months to implement the new rules, meaning that it will take almost three-and-a-half years for the card to emerge.
The text of the political deal still needs formal approval from the EU Council and the Parliament, with the final sign-off from MEPs expected in April.