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Equality and non-discrimination in an enlarged European Union

This summary has been archived and will not be updated, because the summarised document is no longer in force or does not reflect the current situation.

Equality and non-discrimination in an enlarged European Union

This Green Paper raises a number of issues linked to equality and non-discrimination policy in an enlarged European Union (EU). It indicates that enormous progress has been made during the last five years in developing a legal and policy framework. However, much remains to be done in order to ensure the full and effective implementation of this framework across the enlarged EU.


Green Paper on equality and non-discrimination in an enlarged EU [COM(2004) 379 final - Not published in the Official Journal]


In this report the European Commission analyses the progress made in the fight against discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation and seeks views on how the EU can step up its efforts in this area. It is responding to calls from the European Parliament and others to organise a public consultation on the future development of policy on equal treatment.


The emergence of non-discrimination as a European Community competence

In the last few years the EU has put in place a considerable body of legislation to tackle sex discrimination related to pay, working conditions and social security. But it needs to tackle discrimination based on a number of other grounds. That is why the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty included Article 13, which empowers the Community to take action to deal with discrimination based on a whole new range of grounds, including racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation.

This Article was subsequently modified by the Nice Treaty to allow for the adoption of incentive measures by qualified majority voting in the Council.

Building a legal framework

To ensure that everyone living in the EU can benefit from effective legal protection against discrimination, the Council adopted two Directives in 2000: the Racial Equality Directive and the Employment Equality Directive.

These Directives represented significant progress in ensuring protection against discrimination in the European Union. They have required significant changes to national law in all Member States, even those that already had comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. The Member States are in the process of updating their legislation on sex discrimination in the light of Directive 2002/73/EC on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions.

These Directives have introduced protection against discrimination on certain grounds for the first time in many Member States and new specialised equality bodies have been set up.

EU support for measures to combat discrimination

The Racial Equality and Employment Equality Directives are complemented by a Community action programme to combat discrimination. It reflects the need for a range of measures to challenge discriminatory behaviour and promote a change in attitudes. Its objectives are to improve understanding of issues relating to discrimination, to develop capacity to prevent and address discrimination effectively, in particular through exchange of information and good practice, and to promote and disseminate the values underpinning the fight against discrimination, including through the use of awareness-raising campaigns.

Projects designed to tackle discrimination in employment have also benefited from EU funding through the EQUAL Community Initiative, as well as through mainstream European Social Fund expenditure.

At the March 2000 Lisbon European Council, the EU defined a 10-year strategy aimed at long-term economic growth, full employment, social cohesion and sustainable development. One of the aims of the so-called Lisbon agenda is to raise the employment levels of groups that are currently under-represented in the labour market and to reduce unemployment gaps for people at a disadvantage, such as people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and migrants.

Anti-discrimination legislation and policy are designed to tackle barriers that prevent members of certain groups from accessing jobs and training. The European Employment Strategy and Social Inclusion Process are backed up by the European Social Fund (ESF).

The principle of non-discrimination and fundamental social rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights, proclaimed in December 2000, reaffirms the European Union's commitment to the principle of non-discrimination. Article 21 of the Charter bans discrimination on the six grounds listed in Article 13 of the EC Treaty, as well as seven additional grounds (social origin, genetic features, language, political or other opinion, membership of a national minority, property and birth). Like Article 12 TEC, Article 21 of the Charter also prohibits discrimination on grounds of nationality. The list of grounds is not definitive.

The principles set out in the Charter should guide the development of policy in the EU and the policy implementation by the national authorities. The Charter is already an important reference document for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in its interpretation of Community law.

The international context

The right to non-discrimination is recognised inter alia by the main international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Convention on the elimination of racial discrimination, and ILO Convention No 111. The provisions on non-discrimination contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms were reinforced by the entry into force on 1 April 2005 of a new Protocol 12 to that Convention, which provides for a free-standing right to equal treatment.

There has also been considerable international interest in recent developments within the EU, whose anti-discrimination legislation is among the most advanced in the world and is widely regarded as an effective model.


Dealing with issues linked to the enlargement of the EU

This Green Paper was published shortly after the enlargement of the European Union to include ten new Member States. Non-discrimination is relevant to those ten countries and others that have applied to join the EU, as it is to the old Member States.

As such, it is one of the so-called "political criteria" for membership agreed by the Member States at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. The new Member States are expected to have transposed the two anti-discrimination Directives before joining the EU, as they form part of the body of Community law.

Enlargement should be an incentive for all these Member States to improve the condition of minorities, in particular the Roma, who form the largest ethnic minority group in the enlarged EU.

Implementing the legal framework

Although the EU has put in place a strong legal framework to combat discrimination, measures are needed to ensure its effective implementation. Given that there is evidence to suggest that racist acts and racial discrimination have increased in recent years, it is vital to address the gap between the legal provisions agreed at EU level in 2000, the state of implementation in some Member States and the continued existence of discrimination on the ground.

It is still too early to form a definitive view as to whether the new legal framework is operating effectively in all the Member States. However, a number of shortcomings have already been identified. The Commission is concerned to note delays in transposing the Directives in several Member States and it is aware of the lack of consultation in some Member States during the implementation process. Much remains to be done to ensure the full and effective implementation and enforcement of the Racial Equality and Employment Equality Directives.

As regards the approach for persons with disabilities, the Commission adopted in October 2003 a European Action Plan setting out a number of initiatives to facilitate access to employment, education and lifelong learning, new technologies and the built environment.

Improving data collection, monitoring and analysis

It is difficult to assess the real extent of the challenges that exist and to measure the effectiveness of legislation and policies to tackle discrimination in view of the lack of mechanisms to collect data and to monitor trends and progress.

The Commission is aware that respect for personal privacy is a sensitive issue. At the same time, it is vital to start a dialogue with national authorities and other stakeholders on possible ways of improving data collection in this area.

EU support for practical measures to tackle discrimination

The objective of raising awareness has already been met by the Community action programme to combat discrimination. The challenge now is to decide on the strategic priorities for EU funding, particularly in the wake of enlargement. The Commission is required to report to the Council and Parliament at the end of 2005 on progress in implementing the programme.

A considerable proportion of the programme's human and financial resources has been devoted to transnational projects which bring together a range of groups and organisations. Other funding has been provided to the European Disability Forum (EDF), the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), the European Older Persons Platform (AGE) and ILGA-Europe (International Lesbian and Gay Association) as well as a number of smaller networks in the disability field.

Reinforcing cooperation with stakeholders

The EU's anti-discrimination agenda has benefited from contributions from a range of stakeholders, including national authorities, the European Parliament, labour and management organisations and NGOs, regional and local authorities, the Committee of the Regions, academic experts and the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

Integrating the principle of non-discrimination in other policy areas

In the context of the EU's European Employment Strategy, some Member States have begun to develop a strategy combining measures to promote the integration of disadvantaged groups with measures to tackle discriminatory attitudes, behaviour and practices. However, this dual approach could usefully be reinforced.

The Commission notes the growing trend to deal with gender equality alongside measures to combat discrimination on the other grounds set out in Article 13 of the EC Treaty. An integrated approach is intended to respond to situations of multiple discrimination and to develop effective approaches to the promotion of equal treatment.

The Commission would, therefore, be interested in hearing views on possible ways of strengthening the integrated approach to anti-discrimination covering all of the grounds mentioned in Article 13 of the EC Treaty, including sex. It organised a public consultation from 1 June to 31 August 2004 in the form of a questionnaire which is attached to this Green Paper.

Last updated: 25.04.2005