State of play of the blocked Equal Treatment Directive

On November 6, members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs (LIBE) committee discussed the state of play of the ‘article 19’ Anti-Discrimination Directive (Proposal for a Council Directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, COM (2008)426).

The Italian Presidency explained that significant progress has been made by previous presidencies on this complicated dossier, but four questions remain on: 1) the overall scope, 2) anticipated measures on e.g. disability, 3) subsidiarity and competences, and 4) legal certainty of the complete directive. The Italian Presidency will focus on two issues: 1) differentiation: accessibility and reasonable solutions, and 2) surveillance: obligation for member states to gather data in order to have evidence on discrimination. Furthermore, the Presidency will promote a re-reading of the entire text to get a better understanding of what areas present the greatest problems for member states, and will then further the debate at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council in December.

The European Commission stated their political priority to adopt the directive and the clear support from President Juncker and Commissioner Jourova. They praised the work done by the previous European Parliament, and called on the new legislature to continue along the same lines. The new Rapporteur, Ulrike Lunacek, questioned why member states do not want to implement principles of equality: “it’s not about technicalities anymore; it’s about lack of political will”. Ms Lunacek encouraged her fellow MEPs from national governing parties to convince their governments it’s a matter of citizens’ rights. While some argue that the cost is too high, the cost of discrimination may be even higher, preventing people from living their lives fully, including contributing through their professional life.

The shadow rapporteurs also intervened. Ms Bildt (EPP) stated that we cannot put values against costs, we should be able to move to the next step. She addressed the Presidency and asked how they intend on taking into account the position of the parliament taken in 2009 in favor of the directive. Ms Guillaume (S&D)  reiterated the need to get out of the deadlock, and questioned how EU institutions can justify that they are doing all in their power to protect citizens. Ms in’t Veld (ALDE) commented that the lack of political will has come with the change in political climate where governments are feeling pressured by populist and extremist parties and are too afraid to take a stand on equality. Mr Chrysogonos (GUE/NGL) gave the example of Greece to illustrate that it is clear that member states do not want to be bound to detailed rules about equality. Mr Kirkhope (ECR) was not present, but other members of his group (Mr Jurek and Mr Ujazdowski) spoke against LGBT rights, arguing that it’s against their traditions and norms of what constitutes a family, and that national constitutions are set out to be respected in the Lisbon Treaty.  Mr Niedermüller (S&D) and Ms Wikström (ALDE) strongly argued against these statements, and Ms Lunacek pointed out in her closing remarks that this is a matter of dignity and equality, and access to goods and services and sexual orientation are neither issues of ideology nor choice.