Sóc a Viena, a petició de l’Agència de Drets Fonamentals de la UE (Fundamental Rights Agenda) i en qualitat de ponent del Parlament Europeu per a la Directiva sobre Igualtat de tracte (fora de l’àmbit laboral) en els ambits de l’orientació sexual, l’edat, pertinença a un grup religiós o diversitat funcional/psíquica. Des que la Comissió Europea va presentar la seva proposta de text per a la Directiva, el 2008, el Parlament hem fet la nostra part colegislativa (especialment important a partir del Tractat de Lisboa), mentre que el Consell manté la se seva completament bloquejada per culpa del boicot liderat per Alemanya.
Conjuntament amb l’agència de Drets Fonamentals hem organitzat una trobada amb representants de 300 organitzacions, amb la intenció de construir una xarxa a escala europea que permeti desbloquejar aquesta norm tan necessària per tal que la ciutadania pugui gaudir, a tota la UE, d’un marc que la protegeixi davant evenuals discriminacions.
En la meva intervenció, tinc previst abordar les següents tres questions:
• As the EP rapporteur on the draft Horizontal Directive, could you tell us in a few words – why is this legislative instrument so important?
The EU is founded on the common values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women prevail (article 2 TEU).
Currently in the EU however, an individual is protected against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation, only as an employee. In Europe, Equality exists only in the workplace. If you are not an employee, you are not protected! We are not protected against discrimination in other areas of life, like education, housing, etc. Does it sound absurd? Well, it is the reality.
The European Commission proposed a progressive EU anti-discrimination law in 2008, which would ban discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in areas including education, housing, and access to goods and services, but it has been stuck at EU Council level since then. If this proposal is shelved, the consequences will be severe. Hopes were raised among Europeans that at last everyone will enjoy the same rights and access to goods and services wherever they are in the EU. Currently, a person can be denied access to a hotel, housing, or bar based on their religious belief or sexual orientation. For instance:
– An EU-wide survey by the European Fundamental Rights Agency on Muslims’ experiences of discrimination shows that some of the highest levels of discrimination occur in private services.
– 78% of Europeans who participated in the 2011 European Disability Forum’s survey on freedom of movement said that they would make more use of their right to free movement in the EU if there were no barriers, such as inaccessible goods and services, non-adapted public spaces and discriminatory attitudes.
– Older people face age discrimination attempting to take out bank loans or buy travel insurance for holidays within the EU.
– 53% of the respondents to a study on social exclusion of young LGBT people in Europe (2007) reported having experienced bullying in school.
– While sex-based discrimination is partly covered by EU legislation, multiple discrimination is still not recognised in EU law. Adoption of the directive would make it easier to combat discrimination against the many women who also belong to discriminated groups. EU law currently treats women as a homogenous group, recognising only sex or gender discrimination. EU law does not recognise the diverse experiences of women belonging to racial, sexual, religious or other minorities.
The idea that human rights are universal, indivisible and interrelated is a principle of law that remains more theory than practice. In existing EU legal instruments for the protection and promotion of human rights, different aspects of human identity are treated separately: discrimination based on sex or race, are addressed in separate laws. Discrimination based on sexual orientation, disability, religion, age, does not exist outside employment. But discrimination and hate do not manifest themselves separately! An individual is not comprised of separate identities! This is why the principle of multiple discrimination, included in the draft directive, is so important. With the adoption of this piece of legislation, the multiple identities each individual has will be brought together and recognized under law.
Full enjoyment of all human rights cannot be accomplished for marginalized groups just by granting them equal rights and opportunities in separate pieces of legislation. We need the directive in order to overcome the exclusive norm against which categorizations of difference are made. This background norm consists of characteristics associated with the white, heterosexual, Christian, able bodied male individual, to whom everyone else is given equal rights. Do we want to construct a new, non normative, all inclusive, fluid and free European identity? This is why we need the directive.
Given the current climate of growing intolerance against minorities and the impact of the financial and economic crisis on the most vulnerable groups across Europe, adopting the directive is a minimum requirement from the part of Member States, who are committed to abovementioned European values.
• Given that the Member States can not agree on the draft Horizontal Directive, what is the European Parliament planning to do in order to advance anti-discrimination policies in the EU?
We have been doing lots of things to try to get the directive adopted, but as it needs unanimity in Council it continues to be blocked, mostly by Germany. Through the Fundamental Rights Agency, we aim to give a final push, along with civil society, in order to get the directive finally adopted.
In the past four years, the European Parliament has called upon Council no less than 11 times to swiftly adopt the draft Directive and the Commission to continue supporting overcoming technical difficulties within Council in order to reach an agreement. As Rapporteur we discuss and beg every Presidency for an overview of the technical issues discussed by each Presidency and solved (or not) since the draft directive was introduced in Council. We invite the Presidencies to LIBE committee for updates in progress of the negotiations.
We have been asking for the possibility for the Rapporteur to attend the social affairs working party discussion as an observer. It only makes sense that he is allowed to be present, without right to intervene, since Council representatives are allowed to attend EP committee meetings and also have a right to intervene, which we are not asking for. What does Council representative say?
We organised a hearing in March 2012 in the LIBE committee regarding unblocking the directive, with the participation of the institutions, civil society and academics.
Furthermore, we have requested an impact assessment from the EP services of the financial implications regarding the adoption and non adoption of the horizontal antidiscrimination directive.
Finally, I will be rapporteur of LIBE opinion to the EMPLO committee own initiative report on the implementation of the employment equality directive. We also try to meet regularly with civil society representatives for an interactive breifing, and also with representatives of the member states permanent representations.
As a conclusion, apart from the values of article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights has become legally binding.
EU Charter of Fundamental Rights Article 21 says: Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited. This article expands EU protection to more grounds than what is included in the draft directive. The directive is the minimum that should exist, compared to the maximum that is the grounds included in the Charter. If in the end of this legislature the Directive is still stuck in Council, we will propose that the EP takes the Council to Court for failure to act (under 265 TFEU). Before that, we might ask the FRA for an assessment of the position of Member States on is issue and verifying if it complies with the new Lisbon Treaty and Charter legal framework as well with the ECJ and ECHR
• Is the European Parliament thinking about alternative legislative instruments to the draft Horizontal Directive? What could they be? Are there any concrete ideas, suggestions that European Parliament is/could be promoting in order to advance policies in the field?
We would not like to see this draft die. We would like to see all grounds of discrimination brought together under the principle of multiple discrimination in one piece of legislation.
We think that civil society has key role to play in raising awareness on the directive. NGOs can be very influential, and we urge civil society to target Member States’ positions at the Council and at national level. We think that problematic countries in particular should be targeted. For instance, we should make sure that Greens and Social-democrats in Germany are ready to support the directive if there is a change of majority in September 2013. Likewise, national parties in Czech Republic could be helpful. In other countries, traditionally more friendly, national parties could also ensure that the crisis is not taken as a pretext to challenge the support to the principle of the directive. It would be great if all NGO networks reiterate a call for adopting the directive as one of their key messages. But let me return the question – are you willing to continue pushing for the directive? Some dispositions of the directive being particularly problematic for MS, it is also important to reassess where each ground stands vis-à-vis the directive – are all the anti-discrimination networks still behind the directive?
We would like to build a coalition of the willing, suggesting to form a coalition of a number of MS wanting the directive – are the NGOs with us? (Austria, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Greece, Ireland, Denmark, UK, Finland, Spain, but probably also Sweden, Bulgaria) and upon certain conditions, some of them could take the lead of such a coalition (in particular France).