Brussels pledges bill against sexual orientation and age discrimination

17.06.08 @ 09:30

  1. By Lucia Kubosova

STRASBOURG - The European Commission has made another u-turn in its plans to boost EU anti-discrimination rules, pledging to put forward a complex bill ruling out unfair treatment of citizens on all grounds, including sexual orientation and age.

  • Some MEPs are happy the Commission has changed its mind on discrimination bill (Photo: Europeam Parliament)

The shift was announced by Jacques Barrot, the commissioner-designate scheduled to take over the justice and security portfolio from Franco Frattini, Italy's new foreign minister, at a hearing in the European Parliament's civil liberties committee in Strasbourg on Monday (16 June).

"All discrimination is serious, and deserves to be fought with the same determination," Mr Barrot told MEPs, adding that the EU executive had asked his colleague, social affairs commissioner Vladimir Spidla to "draw up a proposal for a cross-cutting directive."

The new bill, set to be unveiled on 2 July, will "aim at combating all the forms of discrimination referred to in Article 13 of the Treaty," meaning on the grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Reacting to remarks by Euro-deputies, Mr Barrot specifically pointed out that the legislation will also tackle homophobia, urging MEPs to support the commission in its attempt to push the bill through, as it would need a unanimous support from member states.

It is the second time within a few months that the commission has changed its approach to the anti-discrimination law, which would expand the EU's protection against discrimination beyond the workplace - to which it is currently limited. The new bill would also attempt to protect against discrimination that occurs during the provision of goods and services.

Originally, Brussels had pledged to develop a complex 'horizontal' directive, but in April, some officials revealed that the forthcoming bill would only cover discrimination against disabled people, reportedly due to concerns by businesses in some countries that more expansive EU rules would lead to costly lawsuits.

The move was strongly criticised by liberal and left-leaning political parties in the European Parliament, who gathered enough support to agree on a statement urging the EU executive to propose a directive that incorporated all forms of discrimination.

Monday's announcement by Mr Barrot was welcomed by several MEPs. "Months of lobbying and hard work have finally been rewarded," Dutch Green MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg said. "I am incredibly proud that we have convinced the commission," she added.

Mr Barrot previously served as a transport commissioner, but after substituting Mr Frattini during his pre-election activities, commission President Jose Manuel Barroso decided to ask him hold on to the justice and security portfolio.

Instead, a new Italian commissioner-designate, Antonio Tajani, is to become the new transport commissioner. Both posts will be put to a vcte in the European Parliament today (17 June).

Speaking at his own hearing on Monday (16 June) in the EU parliament's transport committee, Mr Tajani promised he would act forcefully in investigating Italy's rescue €300-million loan for ailing flag carrier Alitalia.

"I will be under no national influence," said Mr Tajani, adding: "I will make sure the EU treaties are respected."

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