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Brussels, 9 November 2009

Eurobarometer survey: perceptions of discrimination

What is the survey about?

This is the third Special Eurobarometer survey carried out by the European Commission on attitudes to discrimination in the EU. It aims to track perceptions of people in Europe towards different forms of discrimination and diversity. The first survey was conducted ahead of the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, and the second in early 2008. This latest survey was carried out between 29 May and 15 June 2009, with a sample of 26,756 people interviewed in 30 countries.

This time new questions were added, notably to gauge the impact of the economic downturn on the level of perceived discrimination. In addition and for the first time, the survey also covered the three Candidate Countries: Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Turkey.

It should be noted that the Eurobarometer is a tool for evaluating the perception of the European population and is not a measurement of discrimination in the EU per se.

Which forms of discrimination are considered most common?

Discrimination on ethnic grounds (61%) is seen to be the most widespread form of discrimination in the EU, followed by discrimination based on age (58%) and disability (53%). While perceptions of ethnic discrimination remain stable (62% in 2008), there has been a significant increase since the 2008 survey in the number of people who consider that discrimination based on age (+16 percentage points since 2008) and disability (+8) are the most widespread. On the other hand, there have been falls for the perception of discrimination based on sexual orientation (-4) and religion (-3).

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

What about peoples' own experience of discrimination?

In this survey, respondents were also asked about their personal experiences of discrimination. In the course of the 12 months leading up to the survey, 16% of citizens reported that they had personally felt discriminated against or harassed for at least one of the reasons under consideration here: gender, disability, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief. As in 2008, age was the most common reason for self-reported discrimination, with 6% experiencing this over the course of the year. This is followed by discrimination on the grounds of gender and ethnic origin, experienced by 3% of those surveyed.

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Why has there been a perceived rise in age discrimination?

There is a strong link between the economic crisis and the increased perception of age discrimination: 64% of European citizens expect that the economic crisis will contribute to an increase in discrimination on the grounds of age in the labour market.

In addition, 48% of respondents consider one’s age to be a disadvantage when seeking employment. This increase of three percent with respect to last year’s level sees age becoming the most common perceived disadvantage when seeking a job (together with a candidate’s look, dress and presentation) and will no doubt colour public perception of the crisis as jobs become scarcer than they have been for many years.

The rise may also reflect growing youth unemployment in many EU countries as a result of the economic slowdown (note that the questionnaire does not refer to older or younger workers but to discrimination on the grounds of age).

What other effects has the crisis had?

In addition to age discrimination, a majority of Europeans also expects the crisis to lead to higher levels of discrimination on the grounds of disability (56%) and ethnic origin (57%) on the job market.

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

There is also an expectation that the crisis is likely to have a generally negative effect on action to tackle discrimination in terms of political and financial priority given by governments. Overall, 49% of Europeans expect less priority to be given to discrimination policies as a result of the economic situation, while 34% disagree.

What progress has there been in recent years, according to the survey?

Perceptions as to the extent of discrimination and personal experience of discrimination have in general remained fairly stable over the past three surveys (2006, 2008, 2009). But while many people consider that more action needs to be taken to combat discrimination (44% on average across the EU), there has been a progressive fall in the numbers of people who consider that efforts are inadequate, suggesting rising awareness of government action. In 2006, an average of 51% of people thought that action was insufficient, falling to 47% in 2008 and 44% in 2009.

Which factors can determine people's attitudes to discrimination?

Diversity in one’s own social circle clearly has a significant impact on attitudes to minorities. Being open-minded and having contact with minorities is the factor that has the most positive influence on people’s attitudes.

The survey highlights in particular that having a social circle that includes friends or acquaintances of a different sexual orientation may make citizens more perceptive to the issue of discrimination in general. Similarly, 67% of respondents with friends of a different ethnic origin believe that discrimination on grounds of race is widespread in their country. The figure drops to 54% for people who know no-one of a different ethnic origin.

Education (in terms of number of full-time completed years) also has an important influence. The longer people have stayed in full-time education, the more they see discrimination as widespread, the broader their social circle, and the more they know their rights should they become a victim of discrimination.

What is the current state of play on EU anti-discrimination legislation?

In 2000, EU Member States unanimously adopted two directives to tackle discrimination: the Race Equality Directive (2000/43/EC, promoting equal treatment on the grounds of race and ethnic origin in employment, vocational training, education, social protection and access to goods and services) and the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC, promoting equal treatment in employment and training on the grounds of religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation).

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.

The European Commission has since analysed the legislation introduced at national level, and where appropriate, taken legal action where Member States had incorrectly or inadequately transposed the EU rules. The Commission has now closed several cases following successful implementation by the countries in question (including Italy, Austria, Finland and Estonia), with more expected to follow.

What about the Commission's latest proposal?

In July 2008, the Commission proposed to complete the existing legal framework against discrimination at European level with a new directive to promote equal treatment beyond the workplace. The proposal would provide a similar level of protection to that which currently exists under the 2000 Race Equality Directive for the grounds of religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation.

The proposal is currently under consideration by Member States in the Council of Ministers and requires unanimous support in order to become law.

What is the Commission doing to change attitudes?

Since 2003, the European Commission has run a pan-European information campaign entitled "For Diversity – Against Discrimination" - with an annual budget of approximately € 4 million - to help inform people in Europe about their rights and responsibilities under EU anti-discrimination legislation.

The campaign organises activities in all 27 EU Member States to make people more aware of discrimination and the legislation to tackle it, and to highlight the benefits of diversity. It includes activities ranging from an annual award for journalists to 'Diversity Days' to focus public attention on equality issues.

The European Commission also contributes financial support to national awareness-raising campaigns under the PROGRESS programme (around 35 projects each year amounting to € 5.6 million in the last two years) as well as supporting training in how to use EU equality law for legal professionals (€ 650 000 per year), NGOs and social partners (€ 1.5 million in 2007-2008 with a new call for proposals planned for 2010). In addition, it runs a series of networks bringing together key actors in the fight against discrimination, such as national equality bodies, from around Europe.

Further information


Special Eurobarometer survey on discrimination – summary, report and national factsheets

Tackling discrimination

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