European Union (EU) leaders who have removed a vital measure promoting transport accessibility from new guidelines could be breaching the UN disability convention, say campaigners.
Omitting the measure – article 43 – would mean that the accessibility of large-scale transport projects might not be taken into account when deciding whether they receive part of a £25 billion EU funding pot through the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) programme.
Article 43, which states that “transport infrastructure shall allow seamless mobility and accessibility for all users, in particular elderly people, persons of reduced mobility and disabled passengers”, was included in the guidelines when they were published by the European Commission – the EU’s executive body – last October.
But the European Council – made up of the leaders of EU member states – removed article 43 from the TEN-T guidelines in March.
A coalition of organisations representing disabled people, passengers and the transport industry has now called on the European Council to reconsider its decision.
In a statement, the coalition – which includes the European Disability Forum (EDF) – said that an accessible transport infrastructure was “fundamental for freedom of movement and is vital for Europe’s socio-economic welfare”.
An EDF spokesman said the removal of article 43 was a “serious concern”, would signal that “projects enhancing transport accessibility are not of high relevance for member states”, and would be incompatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Most EU member states – and the EU itself – have ratified the UN convention. Article nine of the convention states that countries who have ratified the treaty should “take appropriate measures” to ensure disabled people have access to transport “on an equal basis with others”.
Although the TEN-T guidelines still call for the general objective of accessibility to be followed, the EDF spokesman said that article 43 was a “very concrete incentive that gives more weight to accessibility” when designing particular TEN-T projects.
EDF has met with Danish officials to raise its concerns and ask why article 43 was removed during the Danish presidency of the EU.
EDF is now working with MEPs – who will have to approve the guidelines – to persuade them to “maintain and strengthen” article 43.
The EDF spokesman said: “If article 43 is removed by council at the end of the legislative procedure, it will be a missed opportunity to remove barriers to accessibility for persons with disabilities.
“It will also be a missed opportunity to facilitate their social inclusion, since accessible transport infrastructure allows disabled people to have the same opportunities to move, study, work, live and participate in the internal market as any other citizens in the EU.”
A spokesman for the UK’s Department for Transport said the decision to remove article 43 was an “an administrative rather than a politically-motivated” decision by the European Council and was “not expected to have a significant effect on how things operate on the ground”.
He said that the UK government “does not specifically oppose or support the deletion” of article 43.