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A framework strategy for non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all
Following the Green Paper on equality and non-discrimination in an enlarged European Union (EU), the Commission set out a strategy for the positive and active promotion of non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all. One of the main objectives of this strategy is to ensure effective legal protection against discrimination across the EU through the full transposition by all Member States of the Community legislation in this field. This text also encourages the adoption of additional measures such as the dissemination of information, awareness-raising, the sharing of experiences, training and access to justice.
Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 1 June 2005 – Non-Discrimination and Equal Opportunities for All - A Framework Strategy [COM(2005)224 – Official Journal C 236 of 24.9.2005].
Ensuring effective legal protection against discrimination
In 2000, the European Union (EU) adopted two Directives (Directive 2000/43/EC and 2000/78/EC) prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. These texts contain precise definitions of direct and indirect discrimination and of harassment. They also allow certain exceptions to the principle of equal opportunities, which are defined as legitimate in a limited range of circumstances.
Substantial changes in Member States’ legislation as a direct consequence of the adoption of these Directives have been observed in recent years. However, the Commission has noticed that some important provisions have not been fully transposed.
The Commission also wishes to support the back-up measures (dissemination of information, awareness-raising, the sharing of experiences, training, access to justice, etc.) aimed at ensuring the application of and effective compliance with anti-discrimination legislation. This is achieved through the “non-discrimination and diversity” strand of the PROGRESS programme (Community programme for employment and social solidarity).
Finally, the Council has reached an agreement on the proposed framework decision of 2001 establishing common standards for combating racial crime, including anti-Semitism and offences against other religious minorities. The Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law was adopted on 28 November 2008.
Possible measures to complement the current legislative framework
Under the current EC legal framework, racial discrimination is prohibited in the areas of employment, training, education, social protection, social benefits and access to goods and services (Directive 2000/43/EC). The scope of protection against discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation is limited to employment, work and vocational training (Directive 2000/78/EC). Directive 2004/113/EC extends protection against sexual discrimination to the area of goods and services, but not to other areas covered by Directive 2000/43/EC.
The Commission initiated a feasibility study concerning new initiatives to complement the current legal framework. It examined the national provisions that go beyond Community requirements and took stock of the advantages and disadvantages of such measures.
Mainstreaming non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all
The Commission wishes to create tools to promote a mainstreaming approach that will incorporate the objective of non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all into Community policies. This integrated approach should help to focus especially on situations of multiple discrimination.
Promotion and use of innovation and good practices
On the basis of the EQUAL Community initiative, the European Social Fund (ESF) for the period 2007-13 focuses on ensuring greater social inclusion of people with disabilities and on combating discrimination. The PROGRESS programme complements the activity of the ESF in the fields of equality between men and women and combating discrimination.
The new generation of programmes in the field of education, training and youth can make a valuable contribution to the promotion of non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all. Likewise, in the field of immigration and asylum, the INTI (integration of third-country nationals) and ARGO (administrative cooperation in the fields of external borders, visas, asylum and immigration) programmes can contribute to the fight against discrimination.
Raising awareness and cooperating with stakeholders
With a view to ensuring a more positive approach to equality, the European Parliament and the Council declared 2007 the "European Year of Equal Opportunities for All". This Year centred on four top-priority objectives: rights, recognition, representation and respect. 2007 was linked to the year 2008, which was devoted to intercultural dialogue.
The Commission also proposed organising an annual summit on equality, which would involve ministers, heads of national organisations dealing with equality, presidents of European NGOs, European social partners and representatives from international organisations. The first Equality Summit took place on 30-31 January 2007 together with the conference marking the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. Moreover, the Commission is particularly keen to work with employers in order to encourage and support non-discrimination at the workplace.
A special effort to protect disadvantaged ethnic minorities
The enlarged EU must define a coherent and effective approach to the social and labour market integration of ethnic minorities. The situation of the Roma is particularly worrying; despite the projects carried out under the PHARE programme, they remain the target of discrimination and exclusion.
EC legislation on combating discrimination prohibits any direct or indirect discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, or religion. In the context of the European Employment Strategy, Member States were encouraged to develop measures to facilitate the labour market integration of minorities under their National Action Plans. The open method of coordination on social integration also targets poverty and exclusion experienced by ethnic minorities, migrants and other disadvantaged groups. EU financial support is available through the ESF.
Enlargement, relations with third countries and international cooperation
The Commission will ensure the promotion of non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all in the context of enlargement and in relations with third countries through:
- the use of pre-accession instruments to finance the promotion of non-discrimination;
- the defence of human rights, including respect for minorities, which forms an integral part of the political accession criteria;
- its European Neighbourhood Policy;
- a financial instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights;
- cooperation on projects launched by NGOs and international organisations.
The Commission is cooperating with international organisations to guarantee coherence, complementarity and a clear division of labour. In particular, it is working together with the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN) (it actively participated in the Fourth World Conference on Women, the work of the World Conference Against Racism and the development of a new UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).
This Communication follows on from the Green Paper on equality and non-discrimination in an enlarged EU, adopted by the European Commission on 28 May 2004. It takes account of the comments and reactions submitted by national authorities, specialised equal-opportunities bodies, non-governmental organisations, regional and local authorities, the social partners, experts, and individual members of the public.