MEPs call for comprehensive anti-discrimination law

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Despite opposition from members of the centre-right EPP-ED Group, the European Parliament’s Employment Committee has spoken out in favour of new legislation banning all forms of discrimination.

In the draft report, the Parliament examines whether current EU legislation against discrimination actually helps people with disabilities and people of different ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. But a major conflict between Conservative and Socialist MEPs evolved on the question of whether existing legislation is sufficient or needs to be revised or supplemented. 

On the one hand, Elizabeth Lynne, the UK Liberal Democrat MEP in charge of the dossier, welcomed the Commission’s plans to come forward with new anti-discrimation legislation. Lynne suggested that the directive on equal treatment be considered as “the foundation upon which a comprehensive antidiscrimination framework can be built”. She specified that “any new proposed directive will have to prohibit direct discrimination in all areas of life”. 

However, EPP-ED group MEPs strongly opposed the Commission’s plans. German MEP Thomas Mann proposed an amendment stipulating that “any extension of the existing European legal framework on antidiscrimination measures should at the moment be firmly rejected, since the enormous amount of red tape needed to implement existing legislation is quite out of proportion to the results obtained”. 

Nevertehless, on 2 April 2008, the Employment Committee, mostly with the backing of Socialist, Liberal, Green and centre-left MEPs, voted against the EPP-ED proposals. 

After the vote, British Socialist MEP Stephen Hughes attacked the EPP-ED Group: "This is one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in the last five years with real benefits for the quality of life of a great many citizens. But it is endangered by the attitude of the right-wing," he lamented. 

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) commented: "It is only by fighting for comprehensive protection against all grounds for discrimination that we will achieve equal opportunities for all in jobs, accommodation, schools, etc. The proposal which is currently in the pipeline cannot result in yet another missed opportunity to protect Europe's numerous and multi-faceted victims of discrimination. The commitment to legislation that can seize this opportunity is there, it is in these victims' name that we now need the political leadership and clarity of intentions to see it happen."

Loopholes remain in existing EU legislation to combat discrimation, critics say. A Framework Directive against all forms of discrimination, announced by José Manuel Barroso when he became Commission President in 2004, would close those gaps. 

In 2007, the Commission reviewed existing legislation and came to the conclusion that "the level of protection against discrimination based on religion and belief, age, disability and sexual orientation is lower than that afforded in the case of discrimination based on race". The EU executive thus concluded that a new initiative was necessary.

The Commission made its proposal a priority for 2008. Meanwhile, Parliament addressed the issue in an own-initiative report. 

  • 19 May 2008: Parliament plenary vote on Lynne report

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