Freedom of movement for all – The EU disability card

Travelling, working, studying in another EU country? What many people take for granted is often not accessible for people with disabilities. With the EU disability card we want to change this. Katrin Langensiepen is a member of the European Parliament for the Greens/EFA. She is also one of the few MEPs with a disability. In this article, she explains what the EU disability card is and why it is such a big step towards European accessibility.

What is the EU disability card?

The recognition of disability status and the associated benefits, assistance or advantages often stop at the border between two EU countries. 

I want to change this with the new EU disability card. Together with activists, we, the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament have been calling for its introduction for years. This year, the European Commission has now presented a legislative proposal. 

Our preliminary discussions have paid off. At least as far as travelling is concerned, the EU Commission’s proposal is a milestone. 

Why do we need an EU disability card?

People with disabilities should be able to study, work, and do an internship in another EU country. And they should be able to do so even if they are dependent on specific help. But in order to claim benefits with a disability card in another EU country, I first have to prove that I have a disability.

It is unacceptable that people with disabilities first have to go through a months-long, often humiliating, national assessment process before they can make use of appropriate assistance or reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Conversely, this means no trace of flexibility and freedom of movement.

Several people with disabilities have already contacted me about this. They told me that they have had to let go of the wish to study abroad or do an internship in another country. They had to, simply because they cannot rely on local assistance unless they pay for it privately. 

Compared to people without disabilities, this is clearly discrimination. More than 10 years ago, the EU committed itself to implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and thus also to EU freedom of movement for all.

What will it change for people with disabilities?

The proposed directive stipulates that people with disabilities can use the new card to take advantage of all preferential treatments that apply nationally. 

This will make it easier for people with disabilities to travel in other EU countries:

  • Cultural offers for people with disabilities
  • Discounts on local transport
  • Assistance services on trains and local public transport

If, for example, a person with a disability in France does not have to pay tolls on the motorway, this now applies not only to people from France. With the new EU disability card, this also applies to people with disabilities from Austria, Poland or Italy who are travelling in France.

The EU ID card is not intended to replace the national ID card, but to supplement it voluntarily.

The access to preferential treatments is limited to travelling, currently meaning a short period of 3 months. Social benefits are not included in the disability card.

What will the new EU disability card look like?

The EU disability card will be available in card and digital form. It will be valid and recognised throughout the EU. It will therefore offer equal access to assistance for people with disabilities, regardless of their EU nationality. This is the overarching idea behind the EU disability card. 

However, some EU member states are already sceptical. In Germany, for example, there are arguments of “discrimination against nationals”, implementation costs and additional burdens. This relates to local public transport in Germany, for example, where discounts currently vary depending on the degree of disability. People with an EU ID card that does not provide for a degree would therefore have an “advantage”.

Now is not the time to get lost in these nationally driven detailed debates. Up to now, the EU ID card has only been valid for a limited period of three months at a time. This is a very short period in contrast to benefits that apply to nationals for much longer. It would be the minimum level of European solidarity to provide people with disabilities with benefits and assistance when travelling!

The Greens/EFA in the European Parliament continue to fight for freedom of movement

We must do everything in our power to ensure that the EU adopts this disability card before the end of this legislative period. The EU member states must not fall into a blockade position in the negotiations with the Commission and Parliament. 

It is therefore all the more important that people with and without disabilities, as well as their NGOs, mobilise and speak out in their member states in favour of an EU disability card. 

We appeal to you to write specifically to the respective ministers for people with disabilities, but also for transport. 

Because for us Greens in the European Parliament, the EU disability card is just a start.

The new EU disability card would be a historic step towards freedom of movement for people with disabilities. However, we are still a long way from real freedom of movement. 

What’s the next step after the EU disability card?

Looking to the future, we are calling for a common definition of disability in the long term. This way we don’t need national assessments anymore and social benefits can also be claimed. 

But even in the current draft law, we, the Greens/EFA are already trying to find an interim solution for people with disabilities who are between two EU member states for a longer period of time. When a person with a disability changes their place of residence, their rights and social benefits are often terminated immediately. However, it can take months before they are entitled to benefits in the other EU country. 

That is why we are calling in the current negotiations in the European Parliament for the EU ID card to take precedence during an ongoing procedure. We are also calling for national rights to be maintained until a new national ID card is issued. This process should not take longer than 6 months. 

We also want to extend the 3-month period for people who are part of a mobility programme. This is why we are calling for an EU platform with information and overviews of the respective nationally applicable benefits and services. We also want to examine the extent to which people can use the EU disability card to coordinate social security systems in the future. 

The new EU disability card is an opportunity to finally guarantee people with disabilities their right to freedom of movement within the EU. The EU Parliament, Commission and Council must utilise it together and build on it. 

The future is accessible, for everyone.