European Union

Key documents: European Convention on Human Rights, Charter for Persons with Autism, Treaty of Amsterdam, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, Written Declaration on Autism, and the General Data Protection Regulation.​

Characteristics: Much like the international documents, the legislation adopted by the European Union involves human rights (especially right to education). However, the EU has a legal basis on which it can regulate human rights matters, meaning some documents mentioned here are binding to all EU Member States by default (e.g. Treaties, European Convention on Human Rights). Looking at autism specifically, the EU has ratified a written declaration that acknowledges the complexity of the condition and sets out certain focal points that should work towards to an improved environment for people with autism in the EU. 


  • Human rights lie at the core of the European Union, as all EU Member States are required to sign the European Convention on Human Rights by the Council of Europe, which laid down the right to education for every person in its Protocol [1]. 
  • The Charter for Persons with Autism built upon Declarations on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons and Disabled Persons, while focusing specifically on autism. It emphasises their right to education as well as appropriate education in Point 3, meaning that the special needs that children with autism have should be addressed appropriately [2]. Point 6 then covers the equipment, assistance and support services necessary to live a fully productive life with dignity and independence. 
  • The Treaty of Amsterdam reiterated the necessity to combat discrimination on basis of disability in Article 6a [3].
  • The Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union was created to unify all previous legislative documents that set out human rights and freedoms and was made legally binding [4]. The right to education for everyone is mentioned in Article 14 of this document.
  • The competency of education was formally delegated to the EU Member States through Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, allowing Member States to continue to develop their own education system without EU intervention [5]. 
  • Later, the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union formed the foundation for the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 [6]. It is still in force and aims to empower people with disabilities so they can enjoy their human rights fully. For children, it recognises that the children with disabilities often do not have access to mainstream education and calls for more measures to include these children in mainstream education. 
  • The Written Declaration on Autism calls for an EU Strategy on autism specifically [7], as it acknowledges in Point 3 that early detection is still lacking across Europe, despite the importance of early diagnosis to provide appropriate and adequate support and education. In Point 5, it also attempts to encourage research on autism, prevalence studies, and exchange of best practices regarding evidence-based interventions for children with autism, as well as support services and services for adults that teach and improve their skills for addressing and coping with autism in daily life.
  • Finally, with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 [8], data on health conditions is prohibited to be used in any way without the consent of the parents or guardians (Article 9). As a result, implementation of special education services has become more complex when multiple stakeholders are involved, because data on health cannot be shared as freely as before. 

[1] Council of Europe. European Convention on Human Rights. 1950. Available from:   
[2] Autism Europe. Charter for Persons with Autism. 1992. Available from:
[3] European Commission. Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts. 1997. Available from:
[4] European Commission. Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. 2000. Available from:
[5] European Commission. Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. 2009. Available from:
[6] European Commission. European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe. 2010 p. 1–9. Available from:
[7] European Parliament. Written Declaration on Autism. 2015. Available from:
[8] European Commission. General Data Protection Regulation. 2016. Available from: