EU anti-discrimination law one step closer to adoption

Stefano Sannino, the Italian Ambassador to the EU, said his country's presidency will make efforts to restart the negotiations on the anti-discrimination draft directive. [Ecaterina Casinge]

Blocked by some member states, EU anti-discrimination rules could be pushed forward through enhanced cooperation, suggested European Commissioner Martine Reicherts, stressing that transgender people in more than half of EU countries must choose between getting sterilised or not having their identity recognised under national law.

An EU law to ensure equal treatment regardless of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation was proposed by the European Commission in 2008. It has been blocked by national governments in the Council of Ministers ever since.

Speaking at a conference on Tuesday (28 October), outgoing Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Martine Reicherts, called for the six-year stalemate to be broken. [see the VIDEO]

Reicherts suggested adopting the equality law through enhanced cooperation as opposed to unanimity, which is now required in the Council. This means that a group of EU countries could press ahead with projects they can agree on without waiting for a unanimous approval in the Council.

During the conference, Reicherts said that such a law should be brought into force only with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) NGOs’ involvement. One should “never trust bureaucrats,” she added.

The majority of LGBTI people shy away from admitting who they are in nearly all EU countries, policymakers and NGOs heard at the conference.  

“We need to change the mentality and tell people that gender and sexual orientation cannot be a reason for discrimination,” said Stefano Sannino, the Italian Ambassador to the EU. “Everybody should be free to choose what he or she wants to be.”

Ivan Scalfaratto, the Italian Undersecretary of State, said that the presidency intends to be “an honest broker” in the directive’s negotiations.

Policymakers said binding EU level rules were needed. But Italian EU Presidency officials said there was little chance the equality directive will be adopted in the Council after six years of stalemate.

Italy holds the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of the year. As it chairs the Council meetings, it could push member states to adopt the equality law by enhanced cooperation.

“There is a strong political and cultural resistance in the Council,” Scalfaratto warned. “But sometimes less is better than nothing.”

The countries against the directive, including Germany, claim that national anti-discrimination laws already offer enough safeguards to LGBTI people.

The main argument against EU legislation was that national standards would be undermined by weaker EU rules.



Morten Kjaerum, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) Director presented at the conference the results of a survey on the situation of LGBTI people in Europe. FRA found that a majority of them still experience discrimination every day. Almost half of the respondents reported they felt discriminated against or harassed on the basis of their sexual orientation. 

The findings also showed that at least 60% received negative comments at school, and 26% were attacked on the basis of their sexual preferences.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (ILGA-Europe) organisation, also present at the event, said that the situation has improved in many countries but a lot remains to be done.

“It feels like Europe is catching up on what should be a given,” said Evelyne Paradis, ILGA-Europe Director.

Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe Said:

“During today’s conference we definitely felt new energy around LGBTI human rights among the EU institutions and Member States. There is a clear sign of mounting support for the EU strategy on LGBTI rights. Additionally, we witnessed positive signs supporting the unblocking the proposal for the EU comprehensive anti-discrimination directive.

We sincerely hope that the symbolism and significance of having this conference at the Council of the EU together with the positive signs from EU institutions and Member States means new momentum for LGBTI human rights in the EU and will translate into real and substantial improvement of the human rights of LGBTI people in the EU in the next 5 years.”

In 2008, the European Commission presented a proposal for directive to address discrimination based on the grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation, and on religion or belief. Initially, the co-legislators, the European Parliament and member states, supported the proposal, but a number of countries remained reluctant towards the draft law. The main concerns were related to the costs of implementing such a law, the lack of legal certainty and the absence of qualitative assessment on potential consequences of applying new anti-discrimination rules in each member state. 

Six years later, the draft directive still remains blocked in the Council. At the end of October, the Italian EU Presidency organised a high-level conference, the first of its kind, to discuss the possibilities of initiating another round of negotiations on the directive among EU countries. 

With the new European Commission taking office on 1 November, it will be up to V?ra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality to either propose new ways to adopt the directive or repeal it altogether. 


EU Agency on Fundamental Rights:

  • “Tackling sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination: next steps in EU and Member State policy making” conference

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