Commission ups pressure against discrimination

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A new Eurobarometer report shows that anti-discrimination legislation is still not sufficiently implemented in the EU. The Commission wants to change that with a European year dedicated to equal opportunities

Almost two thirds of Europeans think that non-whites, disabled people, gays, senior citizens, people with different religious beliefs and women are being discriminated against in their country. According to the survey, being of different ethnic origin is most likely to result in discrimination, whereas most respondents believe that women are no longer discriminated against. 

At the same time, a majority of Europeans think that affirmative action should be taken to end discrimination in various fields. Between 72% and 77% said that more women were needed in management positions and in parliaments and more disabled and older people in the workplace. There was no majority, however, in favour of MPs of a different ethnic origin from the rest of the population. 

The survey also showed that, throughout the EU, there is little awareness of anti-discrimination legislation. Less than a third of the population knows what rights they have when they are being discriminated against, and even fewer people know that there is legislation in force prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age and of sexual orientation. 

The European Year of Equal Opportunities for All aims to inform EU citizens about this kind of legislation, thus paving the way for its wide spread application. 

Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimír Špidla said: "The European Year in 2007 will seek to make people in the EU more aware of their rights to enjoy equal treatment and a life free of discrimination. These are two of the basic principles underpinning the Union. I would say the main objective of the Year is to raise the awareness of the benefits of a fair and cohesive society where we all have equal chances whatever our sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation."

Waltraud Heller of the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia
  (EUMC) said: "It is not enough to outlaw discrimination and to pass laws. It needs to be combated actively and one such way is to create an enabling environment. The Year should contribute to creating this enabling environment where society as a whole will engage in tackling discrimination, prevent it occurring and encourage victims to use the national level remedies which are in place. It's not just about standard setting; it is about creating the sort of Europe that we can all share in equally and be proud of."

The European Women's Lobby declared: "A strong link should also be made with the specific work done by the European Commission on gender equality both in terms of policy and programmes and in terms of legislation. A key challenge will be to show that the notion of 'equality' does not mean 'sameness' but rather takes account of differences and diversity to ensure equal treatment for everyone."

The 
European Disability Forum
highlighted "the reality of disability": 

• Disabled people are not a small minority: we are more than 50 million EU citizens with a disability, representing more than 10% of the EU population. 
• One family in four has a member with a disability. 
• Disabled people are more than twice as unlikely to reach third-level education as non-disabled persons. 
• Many disabled children do not have equal opportunities to access education. 
• We face unemployment, twice as high as non-disabled persons. 
• We live in an inaccessible environment, despite the fact that we represent, together with other persons with temporarily reduced mobility, 40% of the population. 
• The free movement of persons in the European Union is just an ideal for us, because most of the time barriers prevent us from leaving the place we live in.

British Conservative Employment Spokesman MEP Philip Bushill-Matthews commented: "(German Vice-Chancellor Franz Müntefering) called today for a stronger social dimension in Europe. My response is that the current problem for the EU is not the absence of a social dimension but the presence of an anti-social dimension - over-prescriptive employment legislation that puts burdens on businesses, and keeps 18 million Europeans unemployed. Simply talking about equal opportunities will not help those without a job, unless accompanied by practical steps to make it happen."  

People in the EU who are different from the majority are still being discriminated against on the labour market, in housing, transport and many other areas of daily life. The main bases of discrimination are: 

  • Ethnic origin;
  • disability;
  • sexual orientation;
  • age;
  • religion or beliefs, and;
  • gender.

Article 2, Paragraph 7 of the Amsterdam Treaty granted the EU powers to "take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation". It has been transposed in a number of Directives prohibiting discrimination

Beyond that, there is also a business case for diversity. In a 2005 Commission report, 83% of companies with a diversity policy in place said that it had brought real business benefits. Public authorities and private companies serve and address people with a wide range of backgrounds. By reflecting this in their own workforce, they are better equipped to understand their needs. 

A new Eurobarometer survey highlights  the situation on discrimination and diversity throughout the EU's 25 member states. It was published on 23 January 2007, at an event for the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All

  • On 23 January 2007, the Commission launched the website for the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. 
  • On the same day, the European Disability Forum launched the campaign 1million4disability.eu, which aims to collect one million signatures for disabled citizens' rights to equality. 
  • On 24 January, the Parliament's Committee on Women’s rights and Equal opportunities discuss MEP Amalia Sartori's report  on the European Commission 2007-2010 Roadmap on gender equality.
  • The European Year will be officially launched at the Equality Summit between the European Commission and the German EU Presidency, on 30 - 31 January 2007, in Berlin. 
  • A calendar of upcoming events in the framework of the European Year can be found here.

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