EESC Info interviewed EESC member Krzysztof Pater, to hear the story behind his report Real rights of persons with disabilities to vote in EP elections.
EESC Info: What inspired you to start working on this report?
Krzysztof Pater: In their programming documents, political declarations and legislative initiatives, the European institutions often express concern about the fundamental rights of various social groups in the EU. We believe that existing legal solutions in the EU can be a model for other regions throughout the world. Many politicians are complacent and believe that our democracy is pretty much perfect.
I do not agree with this attitude. In my opinion, there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. One of the first steps should be to ensure that all people with disabilities have real, active voting rights and the possibility to vote. I am convinced that a society that accepts a situation where someone with a disability is deprived of their right to vote because of the regulations in force will never be able to fully accept the rights of other groups that are subject to discrimination. In preparing this report I wanted above all to shine a spotlight on the barriers that exist to exercising the right to vote and draw attention to the scale of these barriers. But at the same time I really wanted to show positive examples from some countries that illustrate their approach to the voting rights of people with disabilities.
What do you hope to achieve through this report? Have you received any feedback?
This report shows a sad reality. For many people it confirms what people have been saying for years. But at the same time, it is a huge collection of positive examples. For organisations working in Member States for the rights of people with disabilities or, more broadly, on human rights, it is a unique instruction manual that shows the potential direction of developments in specific Member States. The decision of the German Constitutional Court enabling people with intellectual disabilities to vote in the 2019 European Parliament elections, which was taken a month after the EESC report was adopted, is another example of breaking down existing barriers.
The report was also sent to many institutions responsible for running elections in Member States. It should enable them to compare the level of adaptation of arrangements to the needs of people with disabilities with arrangements made in other countries and undertake essential legislative initiatives.
So, in the next European Parliament elections in 2024 will the majority of voters with disabilities be able to vote?
There are two ways to change existing conditions. The first is changing the rules governing elections to the European Parliament. Since the EU requires that citizens living in another Member State have the right to vote in European elections, it is also possible to adopt legislation to guarantee the right to vote for all people with disabilities starting from the 2024 elections. If such measures are adopted, then we can expect similar changes in national or local elections to be independently implemented by Member States. The second, and slower, way is legislative changes at Member State level. In this way it is also possible to significantly improve the exercise of voting rights by people with disabilities at the next European Parliament elections.