22nd Oct 2016

Slovakia bans positive discrimination

Positive action providing advantages for people of an ethnic or racial minority group is to be banned in Slovakia, striking a blow against EU policy on the matter.

The country’s constitutional court ruled on Monday (18 October) that such favourable provisions clashed with the Slovak constitution, as they "violated full equality before the law".

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  • Positive action has "violated full equality before the law", a Slovak court has said (Photo: European Commission)

In practical terms, the ruling means that measures such as preferential access to education or the requirement to hire a designated quota of minority group members, such as Roma, would be illegal.

End of a long dispute

The court’s decision put an end to a 15-month legal dispute between the Slovak government and the parliament, with the cabinet keen to dump Article 5 of the European Council Race Discrimination Directive.

The text allows the option of positive action and has been part of Slovak anti-discrimination law since July 2004.

The final verdict is seen as a victory for the governmental Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), which had at first opposed the entire anti-discrimination package.

Led by justice minister Daniel Lipsic, the Christian Democrats said that special assistance may be linked "only to social conditions, never to racial or ethnic origin".

"We need to get rid of building stereotypes based on race and ethnicity".

Roma angered

But Roma representatives called the legal ruling a "tragedy", saying it could slow-down existing anti-discrimination projects.

"Positive action is meant to be a temporary tool to improve Roma’s start-up line", said the Slovak Government's envoy for Roma minority issues.

Up to 500,000 Roma are estimated to live in Slovakia, many of them still facing segregation and disadvantaged conditions in housing, education and employment.

End of story?

The sudden red light to positive discrimination in Slovakia is also a blow to Brussels' efforts to promote the idea of social inclusion.

Although not required to, member states are encouraged to take steps to ensure equal opportunities.

"It is definitely important to include minorities into society and prevent certain areas from becoming ghettos", the commission’s spokesperson for social matters said.

The Czech Republic and the Netherlands are amongst those EU countries to have introduced measures of positive action, ranging from increasing the chances of Roma to find work to financial incentives offered to companies to hire immigrants.

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