The European Union’s disability human rights record under scrutiny from the United Nations

by: in Law
What does the UN think of EU disability policy?

The European Commission, on behalf of the European Union (EU), monitors and checks on the transposition of EU legislation by Member States. Member States often have to report on the steps they have taken to comply with specific EU legislation and the Commission even occasionally initiates infringement procedures against wayward Member States before the Court of Justice. It is much rarer for the European Union to expose itself to such scrutiny and for it to commit to reporting and to allow its actions to be checked, praised and criticised by an external body. However, that is what the European Union did when it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in December 2010.

Like all State Parties to the CRPD, the European Union is obliged to report periodically to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the steps which it has taken to comply with the Convention. Under Article 35 of the CRPD all States Parties are required to submit to the Committee “a comprehensive report on measures taken to give effect to its obligations under the present Convention and on the progress made in that regard”. In accordance with Article 36 CRPD: “Each report shall be considered by the Committee, which shall make such suggestions and general recommendations on the report as it may consider appropriate and shall forward these to the State Party concerned. The State Party may respond with any information it chooses to the Committee. The Committee may request further information from States Parties relevant to the implementation of the present Convention”. The European Union has submitted its report, which was written by the European Commission, to the Committee. The Committee has also received “alternative” or “shadow” reports from civil society, such as the European Disability Forum, in which they express their views on the actions and compliance of the European Union.

At its April meeting in Geneva, the Committee made a first consideration of these reports, and adopted a “List of issues in relation to the initial report of the European Union”. In essence this is a long list of questions, linked to individual articles and topics in the Convention, which the European Commission, on behalf of the European Union, is expected to respond to. Questions relate to EU legislation and policy, as well as the internal policy of the institutions. Some of the questions or requests seem difficult for the European Commission to answer, such as providing a timescale for the adoption of specified new legislation or the ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol by the European Union. Other questions ask the European Union to provide more information on concrete measures it has taken to address specific issues or respond to recommendations included in reports which were themselves commissioned by the Commission or written by the European Fundamental Rights Agency. In total 45 specific questions have been included in the List of issues, covering topics such as equality and non-discrimination, living independently and being included in the community, and participation in political and public life.

The Commission now has to respond to the List of issues. In September 2015, at its next meeting, the CRPD Committee will adopt its Concluding Observations on the European Union report based on proposals from the two Committee members who are rapporteurs. In the Concluding Observations the Committee will give its opinion on the action which the European Union has taken. In general Concluding Observations contain some praise, but mainly consist of recommendations and incitements for further action to ensure full compliance. The Concluding Observations will be published and can be a powerful tool for putting leverage on the European Union to take action where the Committee has identified failures or weaknesses.

Instead of reviewing and monitoring the action of its Member States, the European Union finds itself the subject of close scrutiny through this procedure. It is to be hoped that it will respond to any (constructive) criticism or requests for further action to ensure compliance from the CRPD Committee as seriously as it expects its own Member States to, when faced with comparable feedback from the Commission.