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Letter: from the European Ombudsman opening the inquiry (OI/3/2003/JMA)

Strasbourg, 19-11-2003

Mr Romano Prodi
European Commission
B-1049 Brussels


Mr President,

Article 195 of the Treaty establishing the European Community empowers the European Ombudsman to conduct inquiries on his own initiative in relation to possible instances of maladministration in the activities of Community institutions and bodies. By virtue of this provision, I hereby open an inquiry into the subject of the integration of persons with disabilities, in particular as regards the measures implemented by the European Commission to ensure that persons with disabilities are not discriminated against in their relations with the institution.

1 The reasons for the inquiry

People with disabilities constitute a significant proportion of the population of the Community. As both European institutions and Member States have publicly stated(1), this group of people face a wide range of obstacles which prevents them from achieving equal opportunities, independence and full economic and social integration. The Community has thus been urged to strengthen its contribution to promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities, with a view to their integration into society. Several initiatives have been taken at the Community level to address this issue.

On 10 May 2000, the Commission adopted a communication entitled "Towards a barrier-free Europe for people with disabilities", in which it commits itself to developing and supporting a comprehensive and integrated strategy to tackle social, architectural and design barriers that unnecessarily restrict access for people with disabilities(2). The European Parliament has unanimously adopted a similar resolution(3).

On 3 December 2001, the Council agreed to designate 2003 as the European Year of People with Disabilities(4). It acknowledged that discrimination against people with disabilities still prevails, often as a result of lack of information and problems of attitude. By declaring 2003 as the year of people with disabilities, the Council sought to increase society's understanding of the rights, needs and potential of disabled persons, as well as to encourage synergies among all partners in order to promote a flow of information and an exchange of good practice.

More recently, the special situation of this group of people and the need for supportive measures have been mentioned in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Its Article 26 states that,

"The Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community".

Internal actions by EC institutions and bodies

Mindful of the potential problems encountered by disabled individuals to become EU officials or to develop their careers as such, the European institutions adopted in 1998 a "Code of good practice for the employment of people with disabilities", which provides a statement of the European institutions' policy in this area, as well as guidelines for their services as regards related actions(5). The Code envisaged several actions to be undertaken in the following areas,

- Recruitment: All reasonable measures should be taken to ensure that people with disabilities would be able to participate in competitions on equal terms with other candidates.

- Careers: Care is to be taken during the career of an official with disabilities to ensure the avoidance of job requirements that are not job-related and which might exclude people with disabilities.

- Working environment: All reasonable steps are to be taken to minimise problems related to access to buildings, as well as to office accommodation and equipment.

- Information and awareness: The Code of Good Practice is to be distributed to all staff. Members of Selection Boards are to receive training courses involving disability awareness.

- Monitoring: Each institution is to appoint an official or body to be responsible for the implementation of the Code of Good Practice.

In its communication of 10 May 2000, the Commission restated the commitments set out in the Code of Good Practice, and defined additional measures aimed at fostering the development of best practice within its own organisation. The actions which have been outlined are as follows:

- Employment: The Commission will take the necessary measures to facilitate the access of people with disabilities to work in the European Public Service (organisation of competitions; career development; administrative assistance; equipped offices and buildings; identification of posts). It will encourage staff to attend awareness training.

- Accessibility to Commission's premises: The Commission will seek to ensure that offices and facilities are accessible to its disabled employees and to citizens who visit its services.

- Information and communication: The Commission will amend its guidelines on access to Commission documents to ensure that publications and information are accessible to people with disabilities in alternate formats. Similarly, the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities will ensure that citizens with disabilities have more access to its information.

- European Schools: The Commission will support the efforts made by the European Schools with a view to better integrate pupils with disabilities.

- Internal co-ordination: The Commission's services will work to develop audit tools and information related to disability issues. They will seek to produce targeted guidance for people with disabilities seeking assistance for information on EU programmes.

These actions were welcomed by the European Parliament, which has called for the implementation of supplementary actions(6), such as the creation of an inter-institutional group to examine the conditions of access for people with disabilities to EU institutions (access to and actual participation in meetings and appropriate recruitment and employment conditions). The European Parliament has requested that this inter-institutional group produce regular public reports on the efforts made to implement the code of good practice and to monitor the progress achieved in ensuring that disabled people (employees and visitors) have full access to all EU institutions. The drafting of periodic reports by all EU institutions has been also suggested. These reports should provide information such as the number of disabled people employed and the posts occupied by those falling in this category.

The Ombudsman welcomes the Commission's clear commitments towards people who constitute one of the most disadvantaged sectors of our society. The seriousness of their situation demands that the proclaimed commitments be put into practice by means of effective actions. Good administration requires prompt and effective action to implement these commitments.

As 2003, the European Year of People with Disabilities, draws to an end, the Ombudsman therefore considers it useful to review the actions undertaken by the Commission in this area, and to assess whether they are consistent with the institution's legal obligations and stated commitments.

At this stage, the Ombudsman has decided to limit the scope of his inquiry to the Commission, in view of this institution's central role within the institutional framework of the European Union and its specific commitments towards disabled people as reflected in its communication of 10 May 2000. In the light of the inquiry's outcome, the Ombudsman may subsequently consider whether to widen its scope to include other EU institutions.

2 The inquiry

The Ombudsman requests the Commission to inform him of (a) the actions it has taken or intends to take in order to ensure that persons with disabilities are not discriminated against, in their relations with the institution as well as (b) the timetable for their adoption.

I kindly request the Commission to send me its opinion by 29 February 2004. In order to ensure that persons with disabilities are informed of this initiative and have the opportunity to have their views known, I intend to publicise all relevant documents pertaining to the inquire in the Ombudsman's website.

Yours sincerely,



cc.: Mr Massangioli


(1) Resolution of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council of 20 December 1996 on equality of opportunity for people with disabilities; OJ C 12 , 13/1/1997 p. 1.

(2) Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Towards a barrier free Europe for people with disabilities; COM/2000/284 final of 12/5/2000.

(3) European Parliament resolution of 4 April 2001 on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Towards a barrier-free Europe for people with disabilities [COM(2000) 284 - C5-0632/2000 - 2000/2296 (COS)].

(4) Council Decision 2001/903/EC, of 3 December 2001 on the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003; OJ L 335 , 19/12/2001, p. 15.

(5) Available in the European Commission's website (

(6) Supra, European Parliament resolution of 4 April 2001, par. 35.