The Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field, which also contains a consumer health protection component, was adopted on 16 November 1959.

The Ad Hoc Committee of experts (CD-P-RR) was set up to ensure co-operation between the member States that have signed this Partial Agreement and ended in 2007

A “partial agreement” to raise awareness of people with disabilities

Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field

The Council of Europe very early on turned its attention to the various forms of disability, even though, at its very beginnings in 1949, the priority was to seek solutions for oppressed minorities and the marginalised. At a time when Europe was picking itself up from its ruins, the new-found peace had to be preserved by strengthening democracy with the three essential tools of social cohesion, equality among citizens and respect for human rights. This three-fold focus also ties in with the commitment to ensure the integration of people with disabilities in society. This was not something new. It was first set out in the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field (Res(59)23).

This Agreement, which also contains a consumer health protection component, was adopted on 16 November 1959 by seven of the ten founding countries of the Council of Europe. The Organisation was established on 5 May 1949 by the Treaty of London, signed by ten states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. It was not until later that the three Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark), considered to be in the forefront in the disability field, signed the Agreement. Over the years the family circle widened with new arrivals in the Council of Europe, such as Austria, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Cyprus, and Bulgaria, as well as Slovenia, which had previously enjoyed observer status.

Other countries were granted observer status with the Committee on the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with Disabilities (CD-P-RR), the driving body of the Agreement: Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, along with Canada, which is not a member of the Organisation.

The Partial Agreement took over activities that had previously come under the Brussels Treaty and then the Western European Union. It gave renewed visibility to this section of the population, which may have thought – wrongly – that access to training, employment, decent housing and the right to a private and public life, leisure and sports activities were reserved exclusively to those without disabilities. It reflected the commitment to raising the level of integration – inclusion – of people with disabilities by gradually eliminating obstacles of every kind put in the way of their wish to participate at every level in the life of society. The community has a duty to do so because people with disabilities, who are citizens like any others, must enjoy conditions of equality in order to exercise their political social, economic and cultural rights.

Highly specialised expertise, fostering exchanges of best practice

Co-operation between the states contributing to the Agreement budget is ensured by the CD-P-RR, which has set up ad hoc committees of experts from different countries. These have produced dozens of reports and analyses and have helped draft Recommendations to governments. These recommendations set common guidelines for the authorities responsible for framing national policies. The work of the committees fosters a pooling of knowledge and the establishment of social benchmarks.

A few examples:

  • 1977: a report on screening for disabilities and another on services for people requiring particular working conditions. A third resulted in Recommendation 818 focusing on the situation and protection of the mentally ill and the confinement of mental patients.
  • 1979: report on the adaptation of housing to the needs of people with disabilities.
  • 1981: report on leisure activities, sports and holidays for people with disabilities.
  • This same year was declared United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons, which in the Council of Europe was expressed by in-depth reflection on dealing in a coherent and co-ordinated fashion with rehabilitation and integration policy as a whole.
  • 1982: report on the functioning of sheltered workshops.
  • 1984: report on the training of healthcare workers.
  • 1986: measures for the social integration of people with mental disabilities.
  • 1987: report on the evaluation of people with disabilities for rehabilitation.
  • Governments were invited to report periodically on their implementation of the recommended measures in terms of legislation and application measures.
  • In most states this led to a proliferation of legislation, which should be welcomed.  However, there were still too few examples of the drafting of framework laws covering the whole of rehabilitation as an ongoing process of full integration.
  • There was a need to go further.
  • In 1984 in Parliamentary Assembly Resolution (84) 3 the Council of Europe therefore stressed the need to develop a complete rehabilitation programme. It offered lawmakers in every country guidelines for a modern rehabilitation policy.
  • In 1988 the Committee for the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with Disabilities decided to set up a committee of experts to review Resolution (84) 3.
  • In June 1991 at its 14th session in Helsinki, the Committee of Ministers, the executive body of the Organisation, unanimously decided in favour of a coherent policy with precise objectives covering all aspects of life and taking into account all phases of existence.
  • The document reaffirmed the principle of an independent life, the full participation of people with disabilities in social life and recognition of their rights to independence.
  • In November of that year, 34 ministers responsible for integration policies for people with disabilities met in Paris. They unanimously adopted a Final Declaration calling for a comprehensive policy for the independence and integration of people with disabilities in the community.
  • The document acknowledged that real progress towards removing prejudice and barriers had been made to differing degrees and according to each country’s historical and political context. The Final Declaration welcomed the fact that legislative measures and government action, including in the form of public financing, had considerably improved the situation of people with disabilities in some countries.
  • The document commended the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs and INGOs) that had made a significant contribution to focusing the attention of public opinion on the human and social aspects of disability and in this way promoted awareness of the right of disabled people to an independent life in society.
  • The implementation of the Paris Declaration required close and sustained collaboration with the countries of central and eastern Europe, more recently arrived in the Organisation, so that they could benefit from the experience of their European partners in the disability field. Tailor-made programmes were proposed for the countries of central and eastern Europe taking into account their specific requirements.
  • In a now favourable context, the Council of Europe was to fully play its role of developing innovative ideas and instruments
  • In 1992 Recommendation R(92)6 on a coherent policy for people with disabilities was adopted. It invited states to “guarantee the right of people with disabilities to an independent life and full integration into society”, and also to “recognise society’s duty to make this possible”.
  • People with disabilities should “have as much mobility as possible” and “play a full role in society and take part in economic, social, leisure, recreational and cultural activities”.
  • R (92) 6 was the result of in-depth reflection on all the work done up to that time and became a reference, replacing Parliamentary Assembly Resolution (84)3 of 17 September 1984, which had established a complete rehabilitation programme for the first time.
  • It was available in most European languages, including those of central and eastern Europe, it established both national and international benchmarks giving rise to many legislative amendments in member states. It is supplemented by a regular report on national legislation, showing the progress made, but also identifying gaps in national policies on disability.

A qualitative leap forward

A qualitative leap forward was to be observed in subsequent years. In member states, policies moved forward as never before: the importance attached to protection and compensation was balanced by policies to enable people with disabilities to take control of their own lives, including through rehabilitation actions.

In many countries the institutions that had traditionally dealt with people with disabilities were reorganised in order to offer reception facilities on a human scale, and there was a move towards community-based services.

1993, European Year of People with Disabilities, prompted renewed reflection in order to ensure that people with disabilities were not overlooked in the new European social space.

In 1995 the Charter on the vocational assessment of people with disabilities called for a refocusing of attention, with the priority moving towards abilities rather than disability.

It advocated the right of everyone to active participation in their evaluation process, based on the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) published by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In 2002, the Conference on Access to Social Rights, held on 14 and 15 November in Malta, invited governments and other key players to implement policies fostering access to social rights.

In 2003, the Committee of Ministers endorsed this text by adopting Recommendation (2003) 19 on improving access to social rights.

General mobilisation order: the Malaga initiative

Despite constant progress in the area of rehabilitation, many people with disabilities are still victims of direct and indirect discrimination, either intermittently and spontaneously or in a more regular, almost systematic fashion.

Certain fundamental rights mentioned in two Council of Europe treaties, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the revised European Social Charter remain inaccessible to many people: the right to respect for private and family life, to training, to employment and to decent housing, and protection from poverty and social exclusion.

The Council of Europe felt that it would be worthwhile analysing the different approaches and responses made by its member states in its report on Legislation to counter discrimination against persons with disabilities in order to set a new course.

It recommended that governments adopt legislative measures to counter discrimination and conduct awareness-raising campaigns.

In 2003 the Second European Conference of Ministers responsible for Integration Policies for People with Disabilities met in Spain. On 7 May 2003, three hundred participants from 39 countries, including 26 ministers and secretaries of state, met in Malaga.

There, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe launched an initiative designed to extend the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field to all member states.

In his opening speech, he said: “Would it not be profitable to find ways and means of enabling all 45 Council of Europe member states [45 then, 47 by the end of 2012] to benefit from the achievements and excellent work undertaken within the framework of the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field (...)? I would  like to extend its activities to all Council of Europe member states (...) by gradually transforming the multidisciplinary Partial Agreement Committee CD-P-RR into a fully-fledged Council of Europe Steering Committee, directly responsible to the Committee of Ministers”.

The Committee of Ministers duly took note of the “Malaga Initiative”, and of the extension of the Partial Agreement activities to all member states of the Council of Europe.

September 2004 was the official beginning of the gradual accession to the Agreement by all the member states and future members of the Organisation.