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The principle of equal treatment between persons

In terms of combating discrimination, the European Union (EU) has one of the most advanced legal frameworks. However, this framework must be supplemented in order to extend the scope of the principle of equal treatment between persons.


Proposal for a Council Directive of 2 July 2008 on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.


This proposal for a Directive aims to protect people against discrimination linked to their disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs.

The implementation of the principle of equal treatment between persons shall complete the legal framework of the European Union (EU), which consists of the Directives on equal treatment irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, equal treatment for men and women outside the labour market and equal treatment in employment and occupation.


The principle of equal treatment corresponds to the prohibition of direct discrimination * and indirect discrimination * . It applies to everybody in the private or public sector and in public bodies. Its scope covers social protection (including social security and health care), social advantages, education, as well as access to and supply of goods and services, such as housing and transport.

Specific measures and accommodation shall be provided by anticipation, to enable people with disabilities to have effective and non-discriminatory access to the scope of the Directive. However, these measures should not represent a disproportionate burden. This burden can be remedied by measures adopted within the framework of national equal treatment policies.

The application of the principle of equality as provided for in the draft Directive is without prejudice to national legislation related to the secular nature and organisation by Member States of their educational systems. The principle shall not apply to differences in treatment based on religion or beliefs with regard to access to educational institutions founded on religion or beliefs. Furthermore, the scope of the proposal does not cover differences in treatment based on the nationality or legal status of foreigners in the territory of Member States.

Member States may introduce or maintain more protective provisions than the minimum requirements provided for in the Directive, as well as positive discrimination measures aimed at compensating for disadvantages linked to religion or belief, age, disability or sexual orientation.


All persons wronged by a violation of the principle of equal treatment or who have a legitimate interest in ensuring compliance with the principle, should have access to judicial and administrative remedies.

Member States should take measures to adapt their judicial system, specifically by sharing the burden of proof between the complainant and the respondent and by introducing measures to protect people who have made a complaint of discrimination against potential victimisation.

They should also establish independent bodies whose activities should aim to:

  • support victims in their legal proceedings;
  • publish studies and reports on discriminations.


This proposal for a Directive originated from the priorities of the Renewed Social Agenda and the framework strategy for non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all.

This proposal is in-line with the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Key terms of the Act

  • Direct discrimination: discrimination caused when one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation.
  • Indirect discrimination: discrimination caused when an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would lead to a particular disadvantage compared with other persons. Unless it is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

References and procedures


Official Journal


COM(2008) 426 final



Last updated: 17.07.2011