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Equality: EU rules to tackle discrimination now in place in all 28 EU Member States
European Union rules to tackle discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation have now been implemented by all Member States in national law. Now, further efforts are needed to apply them in practice. These are the key findings of a new report released by the European Commission recently. The Employment Equality Directive and Race Equality Directive, both adopted in 2000, were designed to combat discrimination. It's good news that these EU Directives are now national law in all 28 EU countries. However, the recent report highlights that national authorities still need to make sure they provide effective protection to victims of discrimination on the ground. Key challenges include a lack of public awareness of rights and underreporting of discrimination cases. To support this process, the Commission provides funding to raise awareness and to train legal practitioners in equality law. In addition, the European Commission has recently published guidance for victims of discrimination (Annex I of the report).
"The principle of non-discrimination is one of the core principles of our European Union. Everyone is equal before the law and everyone has the right to live their life free from discrimination," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "It's thanks to the EU’s anti-discrimination rules and the Commission's enforcement action that citizens can rely on these rights in all 28 Member States. The challenge is to make sure those affected by discrimination can apply their rights in practice – that they know where to go for help and have access to justice."
The recent report examines the state of play 13 years after the EU’s landmark anti-discrimination directives were adopted in 2000. The rules prohibit discrimination in a number of key areas on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, and in the workplace on the grounds of age, religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation. Both directives have been transposed into national law in all 28 EU countries following action by the Commission (see background).
Nevertheless, the report finds that there are still challenges to the rules being properly applied on the ground. People may not always be aware of their rights, for example that the EU rules protect them from discrimination when applying for a job as well as in the workplace itself. Likewise, lack of equality data – for the collection of which Member States are responsible – makes it difficult to quantify and monitor instances of discrimination. It is likely that only a small proportion of discrimination incidents are actually reported, due to primarily a lack of awareness.
To ensure that EU rights to equal treatment are properly applied on the ground, the Commission recommends Member States endeavour to:
Continue to raise public awareness of anti-discrimination rights and focus efforts on those most at risk, involving employers and trade unions. The Commission provides funding to support such activities and has published a practical guide for victims of discrimination (see annex 1 of today's report).
Facilitate reporting of discrimination for victims by improving access to complaints mechanisms. National equality bodies have a crucial role to play and the Commission will continue to support the networking of equality bodies and ensure that they can effectively perform their tasks, as required by EU law.
Ensure access to justice for those affected by discrimination. The Commission’s guide for victims includes specific guidance on how to present and pursue a discrimination claim, while the Commission funds training for legal practitioners and NGOs representing victims of discrimination in how to apply EU equality law.
Address the specific discrimination faced by Roma as part of their national strategies for Roma integration, including by implementing the Commission’s guidance as contained in the recently adopted Council Recommendation on Roma inclusion (IP/13/1226).
The recent report also provides a detailed overview of case law since the adoption of the directives (Annex 2 of the report) and sheds light particularly on age discrimination, which has given rise to a considerable number of landmark rulings (Annex 3 of the report).
Following the Amsterdam Treaty in 1999, the EU acquired new powers to combat discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation (former Article 13 TEC, now Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). This led to the unanimous adoption by Member States of Directive 2000/43/EC (Race Equality Directive) and Directive 2000/78/EC (Employment Equality Directive).
EU anti-discrimination law establishes a consistent set of rights and obligations across all EU countries, including procedures to help victims of discrimination. All EU citizens are entitled to legal protection against direct and indirect discrimination, equal treatment in employment, to receive help from national equality bodies and to make a complaint through a judicial or administrative procedure.
Between 2005 and 2007, the Commission launched infringement proceedings against 25 Member States (there were no proceedings against Luxembourg; examination of Bulgarian and Croatian national law is still ongoing). Almost all of these have now been closed. In one case (against Italy), the infringement proceeding led to a decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (Case C-312/11, judgement of 4 July 2013).
Press pack: Report on application of the directives and annexes
European Commission – Tackling discrimination:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU
Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice
Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)
Natasha Bertaud (+32 2 296 74 56)
For the public: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 or by email