1st Aug 2021

MEPs call for ban on all forms of discrimination

  • MEPs say the commission should stick to its previous promises in this area (Photo: European Parliament)

EU lawmakers have called on the European Commission to stick to an earlier promise in a forthcoming anti-discrimination bill and outlaw unfair treatment on all grounds, including concerning age and sexual orientation.

The Strasbourg assembly on Tuesday (20 May) adopted a report (with 362 votes in favour, 262 against and 56 abstentions) calling for a "horizontal" directive to combat any discrimination on grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

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The "own-initiative" report, written by British liberal MEP Liz Lynne, is not a legislative document but a signal to the commission about which direction the EU assembly would like to see the bill taking.

The vote comes after the commission recently indicated that it will not propose a new far-reaching anti-discrimination bill to cover all the areas so far not included in existing EU laws, despite the fact that it was planned for in the executive's official agenda for this year.

Instead, in its attempt to expand protection against discrimination beyond the workplace - to which it is currently limited - towards the provision of goods and services, the commission is planning to focus solely on disability protection in its blueprint, due in late June.

"The need for more anti-discrimination laws at EU level is a subject of lively political debates," EU social affairs commissioner Vladimir Spidla said on Tuesday.

"But let's be clear, this debate is not about whether to fight against discrimination but how to do it in the most efficient way," he noted, adding: "Given the political sensitivity of the issue and the reluctance of some member states, we have to carefully prepare the right mood before moving forward."

Germany has reportedly put the most pressure on Brussels to drop the controversial plans, mainly due to concerns among business leaders about the possible costs resulting from legal proceedings in the sensitive area.

In Mr Spidla's own country, the Czech Republic, the issue recently was in the spotlight after President Vaclav Klaus vetoed a law required by EU's anti-discrimination rules, suggesting they were not only unnecessary but also badly written.

Left-wing deputies win the argument

The EU parliament itself was deeply divided over possible EU measures against unfair treatment of various social groups, with centre-right MEPs praising the commission's decision to focus on protection of the disabled in its June proposals.

"Legislation alone will not solve all the problems with discrimination," argued Slovak centre-right deputy Edit Bauer.

She suggested that instead of another complex EU directive which would be hard to implement for member states, Brussels should rather tackle the situation of the 84 million disabled Europeans.

Ms Lynne disagreed. "We must get away from the piecemeal approach. There can be no hierarchy of discrimination," she said, with several left-leaning deputies echoing the same point.

Hungarian socialist MEP Magda Kosane Kovacs urged the commission to be more active in punishing member state, several of whom have still not implemented EU rules even though these rules "only provide for minimum standards."

In the report, the parliament calls for "effective, proportionate and dissuasive" sanctions against a violation of national provisions on anti-discrimination.

Member states are urged to ensure that victims be automatically assisted in legal proceedings, as they often have "neither support from any public authority nor access to public funding for legal aid" to challenge the perpetrator of discrimination, said the report.

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