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Document 52004AR0019

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the Proposal for a Council Directive on Implementing the principle of equal treatment between women and men in the access to and supply of goods and services

OJ C 121, 30.4.2004, p. 25–27 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)

30.4.2004   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 121/25


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the ‘Proposal for a Council Directive on Implementing the principle of equal treatment between women and men in the access to and supply of goods and services’

(2004/C 121/06)

The Committee of the Regions,

Having regard to the ‘Proposal for a Council Directive on Implementing the principle of equal treatment between women and men in the access to and supply of goods and services’ (COM(2003) 657 final – SEC 2003/1213 – 2003/0265 (CNS)),

Having regard to the decision of the European Commission of 5 November 2003 to consult it on this subject, under the first paragraph of Article 265 of the Treaty establishing the European Community,

Having regard to the decision of its President of 7 May 2002 to instruct its Commission for Economic and Social Policy to draw up an opinion on this subject,

Having regard to its draft opinion (CdR 19/2004 rev. 1) adopted on 2 March 2004 by the Commission for Economic and Social Policy (rapporteur: Ms Norrman, Member of Jämtland County Council (S/PES),

adopted the following opinion unanimously at its 54th plenary session on 21-22 April 2004 (session of 22 April).

1.   Committee of the Regions' viewpoints

1.1

The Committee of the Regions would express its disappointment at the limited scope of the proposal. The Committee notes that the Commission has been unable to fulfil the task entrusted to it by the Heads of State and Government in Nice in the year 2000, viz. submitting a proposal for a directive to promote equality outside the workplace, based on Article 13 of the Treaty on European Union. The CoR regrets the concessions made to various interest groups with regard to the scope of the proposed directive.

1.2

The CoR wishes to work to remove shortcomings in equal opportunities between men and women and actively promote equality by, inter alia, supporting the EU Treaty, the Nice Treaty and the framework strategy in the Fifth Action Programme (2001-2005), where the two-pronged approach involves mainstreaming equality issues in all policies and specific measures focusing on women.

1.3

The Committee of the Regions believes that there is an important difference between implementing the principle of equal opportunities and implementing the principle of equal treatment in certain areas. ‘Equal opportunities’ is a much broader concept and involves having the same opportunities, rights and duties in all areas of life, including an equal share of power and influence. An equal treatment strategy alone is not enough to achieve real equality. In practice it could compound inequalities, and it cannot compensate for earlier sex discrimination.

1.4

The Committee of the Regions endorses the Commission proposal to ban sex discrimination in relation to men's and women's access to and supply of goods and services.

1.5

Given that equal treatment as a sole equality strategy can strengthen inequality, the CoR particularly welcomes Article 3, which specifies that the principle of equal treatment shall mean that there may be neither direct nor indirect discrimination on grounds of gender. The article is necessary to prevent people from being treated less well on grounds of gender, or from being put at a disadvantage because of apparently gender-neutral decisions.

1.6

The Committee welcomes the fact that the proposed definitions of direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment concord with those used in Directives 2000/43/EC, 2000/78/EC, and 2002/73/EC amending Directive 76/207/EEC.

1.7

The CoR welcomes the fact that Articles 7-10 and 13 on implementation, burden of proof and penalties concord with earlier directives based on Article 13 EC.

1.8

The Committee of the Regions agrees with the Commission's view that sex must not be a factor in calculating premiums and benefits for insurance and other financial services. The CoR would stress that this is particularly important with regard to state pension systems and private pension policies.

1.9

The Committee feels that laws on discrimination in any form, regardless of the grounds, must provide equal levels of protection. The proposal for a directive will not cover the same areas as those covered by the existing directive on discrimination on grounds of race or ethnic origin both at and outside of the workplace. The Committee fears that the Commission's step-by-step method of presenting special directives could create the impression that there is a discrimination ‘pecking order’.

1.10

The CoR feels that the proposal contains far too many exceptions and exclusion areas. Article 1(4) excludes education, media and advertising. The Committee believes that if a directive on sex discrimination is to be able to contribute towards equality, these areas must be included.

1.11

The Committee of the Regions would stress its opposition to the Commission's view that a ban on degrading text and images in the media and advertising, and on racist texts, would constitute an infringement of the basic principle of freedom of the press. According to the UN Declaration on Human Rights, legal constraints may be placed on press freedom in order to ensure due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, and to meet the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society (Article 29).

1.12

Article 141 EC on equal pay for equal work or work of equivalent value has not resulted in men and women being taxed equally. The CoR therefore believes that taxation is also an area that should be reviewed from an equal opportunities perspective.

2.   Committee of the Regions' recommendations

The Committee of the Regions

2.1

The EU plays a key role in enabling both the current and future Member States to comply with the fundamental principle of equal opportunities for men and women. The Community must eliminate gender-based inequalities and actively promote equality between men and women in all its activities. The Committee of the Regions therefore calls on the Commission to present a more comprehensive directive, in line with the task entrusted to it by the Heads of State and Government.

2.2

Like the Commission, the Committee of the Regions sees this directive as a first response to the request by the Heads of State Government and would stress the importance of the Commission continuing this legislative work. The Committee of the Regions can help to secure a more comprehensive directive.

2.3

The Committee of the Regions calls on the Commission to propose an equal opportunities directive which, in addition to goods and services, also includes areas such as taxation, education, social security including social insurance and healthcare, violence against women and images in the media and advertising. This would provide greater clarity and accessibility for the Member States and for citizens.

2.4

The Committee calls on the Commission to ensure that this directive covers at least the same sections of the community as those covered by the directive on the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.

2.5

The CoR endorses the proposal for equal treatment between women and men in the access to and supply of goods and services, but regrets the limited scope of the directive.

2.6

The Committee would stress that equality cannot be achieved through legislation alone. Men and women must have the same opportunities in politics, at the workplace and in life generally. The Committee of the Regions believes that combating gender discrimination is also a matter of raising awareness of gender and equal opportunities issues, and of changing attitudes and values. The CoR would be pleased to work with the Commission in organising seminars on equality and efforts to secure equal opportunities.

2.7

Gender mainstreaming involves incorporating equality between men and women in all Community policies and throughout all EU bodies. The Committee of the Regions wishes to support the Commission in its efforts to develop methods for gender mainstreaming and considers that a breakdown of Member State statistics by gender and age would be of valuable assistance in highlighting living conditions for men and women.

2.8

The Committee endorses the proposal to prohibit gender discrimination in insurance and other financial services.

2.9

The Committee feels that the transitional period (6 + 2 years) for the introduction of Article 4, which prohibits insurance and premiums based on gender, is too long. Furthermore, the article seems too rigid in laying down that the directive should apply only to insurance contracts drawn up after the date of its entry into force, without taking account of the fact that pension systems and private pension agreements concluded before that date could continue to discriminate on the grounds of gender for generations longer.

2.10

The CoR agrees with the proposal in Article 12 to abolish provisions which are in breach of the principle of equal treatment (Article 3) found in (a) laws, regulations and administrative provisions, and that (b) individual or collective contracts or agreements, internal rules of undertakings, and rules governing profit-making or non-profit-making associations shall, or may be declared, null and void or amended.

2.11

The directive does not cover the most obvious types of female oppression such as violence and sexual exploitation. The Committee would stress the need for the Commission to put forward new initiatives in this area.

2.12

The Committee of the Regions believes it is important for local and regional authorities to work for equality between women and men. The CoR wishes to help to secure a successful, mainstreamed equal opportunities policy that can shape society and inform people's everyday lives.

Brussels, 22 April 2004.

The President

of the Committee of the Regions

Peter STRAUB


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