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18th Jan 2020

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Germany's equality paradox

  • 'A society free of discrimination ... is also more productive' (Photo: QueenSunshine)

“Every person is equally important and has the same rights - regardless of their ethnic background, gender, disability, religion, belief, age or sexual orientation. It is our goal to convince our citizens of the fact that diversity means advancement for all of us.”

The words of Christine Luders, director of Germany’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA), are a powerful endorsement of equality and fair treatment.

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Her argument captures the essence of the debate surrounding the EU’s equal treatment directive.

So why is Germany the main culprit in delaying legislation that would provide more people across Europe with the same rights that those living in Germany currently enjoy?

This is the story of Germany and the equality paradox.

In 2006, the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) came into force. The core aim of the act is to protect people living in Germany against discrimination on the grounds of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion or belief, age, disability, or sexual orientation.

The safeguards apply to both labour and civil law.

Not everyone living in Europe enjoys protection like this.

The horizontal equal treatment directive, first proposed in 2008, aimed to extend European anti-discrimination law on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, disability, and belief to people outside the labour market.

However, several member states have resisted introducing this change.

Somewhat puzzlingly, Germany is one of these member states. Even more disturbingly, Germany is blocking any negotiation on the directive out of principle, without even engaging in talks about its content.

Germany has opposed extending rights to all Europeans that they were willing to give to their own citizens, thereby creating an unfair patchwork of protection.

This approach will also have a negative impact on people living in Germany who move within the European Union, as they could end up in a member state with less inclusive legislation and lose out on protection.

But does Germany have a point?

Are the arguments made against introducing the equal treatment directive compelling? In a word: No.

One argument is that it infringes on “subsidiarity” - a principle of EU law which says legislation should be made at national or local, instead of EU, level where appropriate.

But it overlooks the fact that similar EU legislation, covering racial and gender equality, already exists.

Another argument is that it’s too great a burden on member states.

This is also invalid, as the scope and implementation period of the directive have been amended in the latest drafts.

A third argument is that it would be too costly.

This is simply incompatible with the EU’s existing human rights obligations and ignores the numerous economic gains that will be made.

As Christine Luders of the FADA also said “a society free of discrimination not only results in a higher quality of life, it is also more productive”.

As things stand, in many member states same-sex partners can be denied visitation rights if their partner is sick and admitted to hospital.

Young disabled people are much more likely to leave school early than their non-disabled peers.

Older people face barriers when trying to do simple things, such as travel freely and access banking services.

In Germany, this would be against the law. But in some countries, these situations are all too familiar.

A European anti-discrimination law is urgently needed to stop things like this from happening.

We have talked about this for seven years now.

Civil society organisations working with people who are currently susceptible to discrimination have outlined the need for this law.

Today, we have come together once again as co-signatories of a statement drafted by the German equality body FADA.

Germany needs to solve its equality paradox once and for all. We are willing to listen if they are ready to talk.

Katrin Hugendubel is advocacy director at Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO

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