Equality legislation in European Union

The new reality of EU legislation banning discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, gender, religion, disability, age and sexual orientation has had a major impact on businesses across the EU.  Redefining Article 13 and the two directives into national law was completed by all member states in December 2006.  For companies their legal environments have now changed. Article 13 of the EC Treaty states:

“Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.” 

This is not a direct prohibition, but rather an empowering provision which enables the EU to take action against the forms of discrimination listed. Prior to these developments, there was extensive EU legislation and case law on the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of nationality and gender.


In 2000, the EU has, pursuant to Article 13, adopted two Directives to combat discrimination:


  • A Directive to implement equal treatment irrespective of racial or ethnic origin (Council Directive 2000/43/EC) which prohibits racial discrimination in the fields of employment, education, social security, health care and access to goods and services.

 

  • A Directive establishing a framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation (Council Directive 2000/78/EC)

Each member country has now developed its own national anti-discrimination law.

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/fundamental_rights/legis/lgdirect_en.htm

Anti-discrimination directives

For many years the focus of EU action in the field of non-discrimination was on preventing discrimination on the grounds of nationality and sex (NB: The European Commission refers to sex discrimination as 'gender' discrimination). In 1997, however, the Member States approved unanimously the Treaty of Amsterdam. Article 13 of this new Treaty granted the Community new powers to combat discrimination on the grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. Since the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force in 1999, new EC laws, or Directives, that have been enacted in the area of anti-discrimination are the Racial Equality Directive, 2000/43/EC, and the Employment Equality Directive, 2000/78/EC. Council Directive 2000/43/EC implements the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, and Council Directive 2000/78/EC establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.

The principle rules laid down in the two Directives are as follows:

The Racial Equality Directive 2000/43/EC


  • Implements the principle of equal treatment between people irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.
  • Gives protection against discrimination in employment and training, education, social protection (including social security and healthcare), social advantages, membership and involvement in organisations of workers and employers and access to goods and services, including housing.
  • Contains definitions of direct and indirect discrimination and harassment and prohibits the instruction to discriminate and victimisation.
  • Allows for positive action measures to be taken, in order to ensure full equality in practice.
  • Gives victims of discrimination a right to make a complaint through a judicial or administrative procedure, associated with appropriate penalties for those who discriminate.
  • Allows for limited exceptions to the principle of equal treatment, for example in cases where a difference in treatment on the ground of race or ethnic origin constitutes a genuine occupational requirement.
  • Shares the burden of proof between the complainant and the respondent in civil and administrative cases, so that once an alleged victim establishes facts from which it may be presumed that there has been discrimination, it is for the respondent to prove that there has been no breach of the equal treatment principle.
  • Provides for the establishment in each Member State of an organisation to promote equal treatment and provide independent assistance to victims of racial discrimination.

The Employment Equality Directive 2000/78/EC


  • Implements the principle of equal treatment in employment and training irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in employment, training and membership and involvement in organisations of workers and employers.
  • Includes identical provisions to the Racial Equality Directive on definitions of discrimination and harassment, the prohibition of instruction to discriminate and victimisation, on positive action, rights of legal redress and the sharing of the burden of proof.
  • Requires employers to make reasonable accommodation to enable a person with a disability who is qualified to do the job in question to participate in training or paid labour.
  • Allows for limited exceptions to the principle of equal treatment, for example, where the ethos of a religious organisation needs to be preserved, or where an employer legitimately requires an employee to be from a certain age group to be recruited.

Further policy documents and reports on anti-discrimination measures at European level can be found in the Publications section or on the website "For Diversity - Against Discrimination".
http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=423&langId=en