While some 17 million European citizens currently live or work in another Member State, this reality is almost utopian for another 87 million fellow citizens.
Indeed, people with disabilities are not automatically recognized as such when they move to another EU country, which delays access to essential services and rights.
“Having to have your disability re-assessed when moving to another EU country places an excessive burden on people with disabilities: bureaucracy, wasted time and support that is not received”, Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European People’s Forum with disabilities (FED). ) told EUobserver.
In the Netherlands or Denmark, having a disability represents an average of around €20,000 in additional expenses per year. In Sweden, this figure is around €23,000.
Without support from day one, mobility becomes almost a luxury that few can afford without family support or substantial financial resources.
In addition to the fragmentation of European disability assessment systems, which discourages many people from emigrating, these people must also be able to benefit from support.
“European citizens with disabilities are essentially dependent on the goodwill of different countries when they go abroad, because the existing European legislation on the coordination of social security is insufficient,” said Haydn Hammersley, coordinator of social policies of the EDF, to EUobserver.
For example, some countries require a minimum period of residence to access certain social security services or benefits.
According to the Regulation on the coordination of social security systems, social benefits which depend on previous contributions should take into account the contributions paid in the previous Member State.
In December 2016, the European Commission proposed a revision of the legislation on the coordination of social security, but this is still blocked in the discussions.
Additionally, until the new country of residence recognizes the disability, the employing company cannot claim reimbursement for reasonable accommodation costs – such as workplace adaptations or assistive technologies. , to name just a few examples.
This is the case of Alejandro, visually impaired, who left Spain for Belgium almost 10 years ago to work for an organization defending the rights of people with disabilities.
He then had to go through several months of formalities with the French Community of Belgium, then with the Belgian federal government, in order to have his disability recognized and to be reimbursed for a screen that would allow him to carry out his work without having to force his view.
In his case, a selection was enough, but the more support a person needs, the less likely they are to be able to study or work abroad without initial access to the services and benefits they need in their new country of residence.
For Kamil, originally from Greece, the possibility of working personally in her Belgian company was not even an option due to the difficulties she faced. She uses a wheelchair and needs 24-hour personal assistance, as well as reasonable accommodation and continued social benefits.
“When you move to another country, you kind of lose everything and have to start over from the beginning, which is usually very tedious and complicated,” she said.
Knowing that the first few months can be a trial period, not having this support increases the risks of losing your job or achieving poor results.
“For freedom of movement to be truly implemented, countries must (…) automatically recognize existing disability status,” Hammersley stressed.
If not, at least the interim period should be covered, the EDF requires.
On Wednesday (6 September), the Commission is proposing a European Disability Card to ensure recognition of people with disabilities across the EU and give them access to a range of services or benefits in the fields of culture, leisure or even transports.
Service providers in all member states will be able to offer these benefits on a voluntary basis, but it is not yet clear exactly what will be included in the proposal, which is expected to take the form of a directive or regulation.
In the best-case scenario (which activists do not expect), given that it takes a lot of time and bureaucracy for people with disabilities to work or study abroad before they can access their rights, the European Disability Card would bridge this transition period until the disability is reassessed.
“We need an EU where people with disabilities are no longer afraid to seek opportunities,” Hammersley said.