John Knight: if we want to make a difference, it's better to be in the EU than outside it

Charities should not overlook the potential for lobbying ministers in Europe, says our columnist

John Knight, Assistant director, policy and campaigns, Leonard Cheshire Disability
John Knight, Assistant director, policy and campaigns, Leonard Cheshire Disability

After Ireland's decision to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, the UK's role in Europe has shot back up the political agenda.

Recent debates have shown that Europe remains a fissile political issue. It played a large part in the destruction of John Major's government in 1997, and quite where and how the UK fits within the European Union still troubles politicians today.

Regardless of which side of this political divide one stands, it is clear that Europe has an enormous impact not only on financial and trading markets but also on social markets.

As a sector we strive to 'make a difference', but in an increasingly global society we need to be aware of what 'making a difference' actually means. Sometimes, just changing things in our own country is not enough - not only because so much domestic legislation has its origins in Europe (estimates vary from 10 per cent to more than 90 per cent, depending on who you ask), but also because, in the age of the internet, global trade and global travel, so many issues now run across borders.

In short, whatever our views on Europe, as a sector we ignore it at our peril.

One example of lobbying at the European level is the campaign being run by Leonard Cheshire Disability with Guide Dogs for the Blind, Sense, the RNIB and the RNID to press for fairer regulation on rights for passengers of bus and coach transport.

The regulation is designed to ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against while travelling by bus or coach across Europe, so that they receive fair and proper treatment throughout their journeys, from buying a ticket through to boarding and disembarking. It also establishes a minimum standard of assistance for disabled people, free of charge.

Many member states, including the UK, want to limit the scope of this regulation to national long-distance and international regular bus or coach transport services, but this is simply not acceptable.

Transport users do not move only from an international station in one country to an international station in another. Access to transport must be inclusive. As a consortium of disability charities, we have a duty to confront this issue, which has the potential to disadvantage our beneficiaries - and, indeed, all disabled people in Europe.

Achieving the best for our beneficiaries means making use of all the tools at our disposal. When it comes to making a difference, I say it's better to be in the debate than out of it.

John Knight, is director, policy and campaigns, at Leonard Cheshire Disability

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