Malta aims to be one of the first European Union member states to transpose an EU Directive that will allow people with disabilities to enjoy the same benefits and facilities in public and private services throughout Europe, Julia Farrugia, Minister for Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector, told The Journal.
Earlier today, it was announced that a political deal has been struck between the Presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Parliament’s negotiators on a legislative proposal spearheaded by EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, establishing an EU-wide standardised disability card. The text of the political agreement still needs formal approval from the EU Council and the Parliament, with the final sign-off from MEPs expected in April.
Under the new agreement, people with disabilities will receive a document that will be valid 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. EU member states will have two and a half years to adapt their national legislation and a further three and a half years to implement the new rules – a period that is being criticised by civil society as it is considering it to be too long.
The EU Disability Card is an initiative piloted in 2015 in Malta and seven other EU Member States, namel, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Slovenia, and Romania. Malta was the only country that went as far as to abolish the local disability card, so that anyone who is issued this document in Malta automatically also benefits when on short trips in other EU member states. Malta was also at the forefront with its participation in the European Blue Badge scheme, which guarantees preferential treatment to people with disabilities in relation to vehicle parking.
Last September, the European Commission tabled a proposal that MEPs boosted by agreeing to make receipt and renewal of the European Disability Card free of charge, except when lost or damaged. They also amended the proposed 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.
Voicing Malta’s satisfaction at the news of the compromise reached between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, Minister Farrugia said that the goverment is eagerly awaiting the final steps so that this European law is formally adopted in the coming weeks. As Malta has already been operating these schemes, it should be one of the first countries to transpose this Directive, as it will be amending and building on domestic laws that already exist.
“Since last September, our team has been involved in a substantial amount of negotiation meetings within the EU Council, and I am happy to say that we were responsible for introducing amendments such as those related to service animals, accessibility of documents, and a number of preferential treatment methods that the holders of these documents will enjoy,” Minister Farrugia said. “Malta also supported the notion of non-exclusion in relation to the extension of the service to categories such as young people with disabilities who spend a period in another EU country to participate in study schemes like Erasmus. The Directive will also follow Malta’s example, with the EU Disability Card being issued free of charge to all those who are eligible for it.”
The scope of the European disability card will include transport services – albeit with some exceptions – as well as cultural events, museums, leisure and sports centres, and amusement parks. It will also improve the existing European Parking Card, which will carry the same standard design from now on, making it valid across Europe.
In 2022, Eurostat estimated that 101 million people over the age of 16 within the bloc had some form of disability. That equals 27% of the EU population, or one in four adults. 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”, with EDF President Yannis Vardakastanis saying: “We expect this card to be well implemented and that it becomes a cornerstone for citizens with disabilities’ full inclusion in the European project.”