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Brussels, 29 October 2009

Employment equality rules: case closed for Estonia; reasoned opinions to Germany and Italy

The European Commission has today sent reasoned opinions to Germany and Italy for incorrectly implementing EU rules prohibiting discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in employment and occupation (Directive 2000/78/EC, see also MEMO/08/69 ). It has also decided to close infringement proceedings concerning the same Directive against Estonia after it successfully brought national legislation into line with EU requirements.

"I am pleased that we have been able to close an infringement case concerning Estonia today. Our legal action has led to better protection against discrimination in workplaces across the EU," said Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimír Špidla. "I am also confident that through constructive dialogue with national authorities, we will be able to achieve full compliance with the Directive in Germany and Italy as well," he added.

In the reasoned opinion sent to Germany, the Commission pointed out that:

  • Germany applies certain restrictions on benefits for civil servants or soldiers living in a registered partnership whereas married partners receive these benefits (contributions to the costs of illness, family allowances and survivors' pensions);

  • protection against discriminatory dismissals are not covered by the German anti-discrimination law;

  • the employer's duty to provide for reasonable accommodation for disabled people under German law only applies to severely disabled people, and a claim for sanctions on grounds of discrimination is excluded if the employer is not personally liable for the non-compliance.

In the reasoned opinion concerning Italy, the Commission argued that:

  • the Directive imposes a general obligation for employers to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled people. Italian law contains provisions aimed at facilitating their work, but they concern only some disabled people, not all.

  • Italian law imposes a special condition of 'seriousness' for the shift of the burden of proof, which goes beyond the requirements of the Directive.

The Commission has also decided to close the infringement proceeding concerning Estonia. Following the Commission's intervention, Estonia adopted a new Equal Treatment Act in December 2008, which brings national law in line with the Directive.


Anti-discrimination (in areas outside gender and nationality discrimination) is a relatively new area of policy for the EU. The European Community acquired new powers in 1999, with the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, to combat discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin, religion and belief, disability, age and sexual orientation (new Article 13 of the EC Treaty). This led to the unanimous adoption by the Member States of two Directives in 2000:

  • Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin ("Racial Equality Directive"). This Directive covers direct and indirect discrimination, as well as harassment, in the fields of employment, vocational training, education, social protection (including social security and health care), social advantages and access to goods and services (including housing).

  • Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment, occupation and vocational training ("Employment Equality Directive"). This Directive covers direct and indirect discrimination, as well as harassment, in employment and training on the grounds of religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation. It includes specific requirements on reasonable accommodation for disabled persons.

The deadlines for transposition of these two Directives into national law by the Member States were 19 July and 2 December 2003 respectively. For the 10 countries which joined the EU in 2004, the deadline was 1 May 2004. For Bulgaria and Romania it was 1 January 2007.

Further information

EU anti-discrimination legislation

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