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Our thanks to MEP Lexmann and her team for their participation in this newsletter.
I find personally regretful that despite many calls on the Slovak government to join the pilot project, Slovakia neither used the opportunity to start the project since the very beginning nor the opportunity to join at the later stage which was according to my information still possible. By its inactivity, Slovakia missed a unique chance to try, with the financial help of the EU, the implications of this initiative although I know that some politicians (e.g. my friend, former MEP Jana Žitňanská as I was not in active politics at that point) or NGOs active in advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities made extreme efforts to motivate the Slovak government to launch the pilot project in our country. This happened despite clear signals from Slovak citizens with disabilities who were excited to hear about the European Disability Card. Regarding their current expectations, since I entered the active political life, this topic was not really prominent among my contacts as Slovakia was not a part of the pilot project but I believe that now with new Disability Rights Strategy published, it will come back to the spotlight and I will try to communicate about it and also call on our authorities to take adequate steps in preparation for the timely implementation.
First of all, I am happy this initiative is finally coming to the agenda after more than a decade. However; taking into account the first campaigns in 2010, the Pilot project in 2016 - 2018 with the assessment period as of 2019, this initiative is in my opinion taking too long and it could have been brought earlier as it enhances the freedom of movement which is in the end one of the fundamental principles of EU Treaties. Therefore, I do not understand why persons with disabilities should wait that long to enjoy this freedom fully and equally and I find it contrary to our commitments we accepted through the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
I also think that the Commission should communicate more openly about its plans on this initiative as I believe that politicians, NGOs or even governments would be interested to actively contribute to the preparations. Clear communication would help to inform citizens about what can they expect and to what extend this initiative will simplify their travelling, cultural or sport life.
When we look at the pilot project, we can evaluate that it was a good first phase to find out what could potentially work; however, I think and I hope that the Commission will draw the same conclusions that a lot needs to be reconsidered and improved before launching the Disability Card on an EU level. Firstly, if our aim is to achieve equal access to culture, leisure and travelling we should at least set the minimum standard in services that will fall within the scope of the card. Because if we follow the pattern set within the pilot project and its voluntary nature for service providers to join the project or not, some countries will provide a wide range of services or reductions for cardholders while others will have very limited or no offers. Secondly, we need to make sure that cards will be unified and that they will not categorize people according to national standards or national choice as was the case in the pilot project with two different types of cards with different offers.
I think that this approach is the crucial precondition of enabling persons with disabilities to enjoy the full potential of free movement across the Member States. I personally believe that if the disability status is recognized according to the national rules, this fact should not be questioned when crossing borders. This is particularly important with regard to the wide range of disabilities as many of them are not visible and nobody should be forced to provide his sensitive health information when entering cultural or sport premises in other member states.
Unfortunately, this area is very unclear and although some aspects are already covered by the Regulation on the coordination of social security systems, there is still confusion about the portability of all rights connected to the officially recognized disability status. It is however, very important to have legal clarity and certainty about one´s rights when using the freedom of movement and therefore I strongly call on setting clear rules. I think that the Disability Card, if implemented properly and evenly across the Member States, could address this gap. The key aspect here is implementation, monitoring and evaluation. One important remark I would like to make is that although the European disability card does not change anything about national eligibility criteria on the recognition of disability status of their citizens, member states should exchange the best practices and critically review their national systems so they are open, flexible and without unnecessary administrative burdens posed on persons with disabilities when trying to get their status officially recognized.
Solutions should be simple. Connecting two cards into one provided they cover wider range of areas from the recognition of disability status to access to services could simplify the procedures and travelling for persons with disabilities. One unified format of card can ensure equal access to benefits across borders, and it will also be easier for them as they do not need to worry about two different documents instead of only one. I understand that not everyone might be eligible for the parking card that is connected to reduced mobility, but I believe that with current digital tools we can always make the card in a way of harmonised and recognized certificate that enshrines different possibilities and through simple scanning of a code or other digital tool it will be easy to verify which benefits that particular person can enjoy. I believe that if we have these digital options we should use them for everybody´s good, naturally with all safeguards connected to the protection of privacy and personal data of the users.