The Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee of the European Parliament conducted an exchange of views with stakeholders on 9 November focusing on the legislative proposal for a European Accessibility Act. The aim of this proposal is to improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services by removing barriers created by divergent legislation. Online merchants have expressed their concerns regarding the approach taken by the Commission with this proposal, even though they support – in principle – the overall objective of improving accessibility for disabled people.
Making products and services accessible for all
The European Disability Forum (EDF) participated in the discussions by stressing the importance of making products and services accessible for all, as a default position, rather than as a special service. In this particular aspect, the EDF identified the “design-for-all” approach taken by the proposal as a key element. Overall, the Forum praised the legislation as an important step in the right direction, but it criticized it for not going far enough.
Several Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) also stressed the potential benefits that this proposal could bring. Kaja Kallas (ALDE, Estonia), speaking on behalf of the Rapporteur Morten Lokkegaard (ALDE, Denmark), emphasized that making products and services accessible should be a priority for legislators, and stated that an extension of the scope of the legislation should be considered. Meanwhile, Olga Sehnalova, the shadow rapporteur for the S&D group, stressed that this piece of legislation could potentially benefit the lives of 120 million people across the EU.
Concerns about the cost of compliance for businesses
Although there was a consensus about the positive nature of the aims of the legislation, many also expressed concerns about the cost of compliance with the proposed law, especially for small businesses. Patrick Grant from BusinessEurope raised this concern by stating that the legislation was framed in such a way as to make compliance particularly burdensome, and even stating the provisions for exemptions in the legislation themselves created additional burdens. He also criticized the proposal for being excessively vague, and therefore creating legal uncertainty. Overall, he criticized the legislation for lacking a sense of proportionality.
Several shadow rapporteurs echoed Mr. Grant’s concerns about the burden that the Act would create for businesses. Andreas Schwab (EPP, Germany), speaking on behalf of Sabine Verheyen (EPP, Germany), emphasized the compliance cost issue, and therefore proposed a system based on a gradual roll out. Anneleen van Bossuyt (ECR, Belgium), further stressed the issue of compliance costs, and in particular questioned the design-for-all approach that is envisaged by the proposed legislation.
A Proportionate Approach?
Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero, Deputy Head of Unit for Rights of Persons with Disabilities in DG JUST, responded to the comments from the stakeholders and from the MEPs. She stressed that the Commission viewed the approach that was taken in the proposal as the most proportionate means of tackling the policy, balancing the rights of disabled people with the interests of businesses.
With regards to the legislative process moving forward, the current Rapporteur, Lokkegaard (who recently replaced Robert Rochefort MEP), is expected to present his draft report in mid-January 2017. Although the Council is currently working on the proposal, it is probable that an agreement will not be reached before the end of the Slovak Council’s Presidency (31 December 2016). Malta will take over the rotating Presidency of the Council on 1 January 2017.