Commissioner Jourová promises a complete Equality Directive by 2015

On 16 February a number of NGOs* met with Vĕra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers & Gender Equality, to discuss the 2008 proposal for a horizontal Equal Treatment Directive (Article 19) that the Commissioner is responsible for pursuing.

Commissioner Jourová stated her strong commitment to working towards an adoption of the Directive by the end of this year. The Commissioner promised that she will remain determined to ensure a comprehensive approach that covers all grounds, including social protection and education. She denied rumours of enhanced cooperation and reaffirmed the requirement of unanimity.

Andreas Stein, Head of Equality Legislation in the European Commission, explained that there has been a positive change with the Juncker Commission. Unlike in previous years, when EU presidencies made the minimum investment necessary to keep the Directive “alive”, i.e. still on the table, the Italian EU Presidency raised the Directive to the political level of ministers again, at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in December 2014. This led to many member states changing their position, leaving one ‘elephant in the room’. The Latvian Presidency is continuing working on the text and asking ministers to communicate their concerns and provide concrete proposals for solutions.

The main issue at the moment regards social protection systems, education, age and disability. It has been clarified that national competence on how to organise social protection systems is not being questioned, which has led some member states to be more optimistic about the Directive. The obligation to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) is a new concept under EU law that we did not have when negotiating the Employment Equality Directive in 2000; member states also want to know what the result will be of the related Accessibility Act, which is under the responsibility of Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills & Labour Mobility.

As NGOs we welcomed the meeting and offered our dedicated support to the Commissioner and readiness to provide the cases, facts and evidence that has been collected throughout the years. Heather Roy, President of Social Platform, reiterated our support and emphasised that this issue concerns access to rights as well as access to services. Considering European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s Investment Package, there should also be investment foreseen for some of the costs relating to accessibility. Our member European Disability Forum (EDF) explained how people would benefit more from the Equal Treatment Directive than the UNCRPD, as it would be a way for member states to easily implement the Convention with a legislative process they are familiar with. Open Society Foundation Policy Institute made the point that the Directive will benefit the right of consumers to move freely across the EU. Amnesty International called for greater transparency in access to the European Council so that NGOs can support it in the best way.

Commissioner Jourová concluded the meeting by remarking that the “real work” will start when the Directive is adopted. Considering that laws on gender equality are still not enforced and the recent review of the hate crime law shows that only 14 out of 28 member states have properly implemented the Framework decision, there is still a lot of work to be done.

* The NGOs participating were: Social Platform, ILGA-Europe, AGE Platform, European Disability Forum, European Network Against Racism, Eurochild, European Women’s Lobby, European Youth Forum, IGLYO (LGBT Youth), Amnesty International and Open Society European Policy Institute.