13th Aug 2020

EU anti-discrimination directive: buried, but not dead

  • EU diplomat: 'The whole bill might just end up being forgotten' (Photo:

The Polish presidency is keeping alive work on an EU bill on access to services for minority groups in the face of antipathy from fellow countries and apathy from the European Commission.

The previous college of commissioners put forward the so-called "fourth anti-discrimination directive" in 2008 to make sure that disabled people and other minorities, such as gay people and pensioners, get full access to services ranging from transport to hotels and restaurants.

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A survey in 2007 by the US-based NGO, the International Disability Rights Monitor, pointed to the gaps in access faced by disabled people inside the EU.

While Finland, Greece, Spain and the UK ranked among the most inclusive societies, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland scored less well. Bulgaria and Estonia scored badly and most EU countries showed no interest in taking part in the survey.

Despite the need to raise standards in several EU members, the 2008 bill has for the past four years been stuck at the first reading stage in the member states' secretariat, the EU Council, in Brussels.

The Belgian and Hungarian EU presidencies kept work going at a technical level by commissioning a cost study on provisions related to disabled people. The current Polish and the upcoming Danish presidencies are looking at the potential impact of measures related to pensioners, with preliminary findings due at a meeting of EU economic and social affairs ministers in December.

An EU diplomat noted: "There is no guarantee the Cypriot EU presidency [due after Denmark] for example will go on with this. The whole bill might just end up being forgotten."

The law is being blocked by around eight EU countries led by Germany under the banner of national competency - the argument the EU treaty does not give Brussels the right to pass laws on social problems.

But the diplomatic source indicated the real reason is money. Asked what it would take for opposition to the bill to soften, the contact said: "The economic crisis would have to end. That's how I see it."

The European Parliament continues to call for the bill to be taken out of the deep freeze. It made two statements to that effect in October and the latest one on 15 November.

But for its part, the commission is unwilling to either redraft the bill or to create political pressure to put it back on the agenda.

Matthew Newman, a spokesman for justice commissioner Viviane Reding, said of the 2008 law: "It's in the deep freeze. There's no consensus in the council, so it's not moving at all ... these things happen."

He noted that Reding's office last November put out a white paper on disability policy covering the next 10 years.

The text covers many of the same areas as the 2008 bill but substitutes general goals - such as to "eradicate discrimination on grounds of disability in the EU" or "enabling them to enjoy all the benefits of EU citizenship" - for detailed legal proposals, giving the impression that the EU executive is going back to square one.

"We haven't decided yet what exact [legal] proposal we will put on the table. There won't be anything this year. But I don't exclude something in 2012," Newman noted.

He added that freedom of movement across EU states - in terms of making sure disabled people get the same level of healthcare across member states - could be in Reding' sights.

The original article referred to the upcoming Austrian EU presidency. The reference should have been to the Cypriot presidency

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