The EU Commission Warns 14 Member States Over Anti-discrimination Legislation
5 July 2007
The ERRC welcomes and strongly supports the European Union Commission's formal request from 14 Member States to implement entirely the EU legislation regarding ethnic and race based discrimination. This is an important step towards acknowledging the fact that discrimination on ethnic and racial grounds persists as a fundamental human rights problem in the EU member states. This request paves the way for relentless efforts to combat discrimination.
The Commission stated in its press release on 17 June 2007 that 14 member states – Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia – have not implemented the Race Equality Directive accurately. The Race Equality Directive was agreed upon unanimously in 2000 and the deadline for adoption of the requisite mediums into the national law was set as July 2003.
However, despite the more than 4 years that have passed, required steps were not fully taken by some of the member states. The formal request mandates that the 14 countries fully implement the Directive. Under the foreseen infringement procedure, the member states have two months to reply to the reasoned opinion. Should the addressed states fail to produce satisfactory replies, the Commission will refer the matter to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The Commission may also request the imposition of fines if the States do not comply.
The main problem areas identified by the Commission include:
- National legislations that are limited to the workplace conditions, though the Race Equality Directive also prohibits discrimination in social protection, education and access to goods and services, including housing;
- Definitions of discrimination that tend to diverge from the Directive (in particular, in terms of indirect discrimination, harassment and instructions to discriminate);
- Inconsistencies in the provisions designed to help victims of discrimination, such as the protection against victimization, the shift of the burden of proof and the rights of associations to assist individuals with their cases.
The ERRC regards the Race Equality Directive as one of the most important tools to combat the discrimination on all grounds and deems it essential that all member states fully conform to its requirements. Vera Egenberger, the Executive Director of the ERRC emphasizes that antidiscrimination legislation is particularly decisive for Roma, as they are among the chief targets of inequitable treatment. She states, "I would hope that the Roma build up confidence in the judiciary of their countries to make full use of such legislation, aiming for equal treatment for all."
Advocacy for racial and ethnic equality is a multi-step process. The ERRC believes that the request of the Commission presents a vital opportunity to those countries in question to prove that they are genuinely supporting the elimination of discrimination by adopting the legal measures set by the Directive.