Combating discrimination in the European Union

Combating discrimination in the European Union

Since the Treaty of Amsterdam ratified in 1997, the European Union is equipped to take measures against discrimination. The current Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, one of the highest EU law texts, reads:

Without prejudice to the other provisions of the Treaties and within the limits of the powers conferred by them upon the Union, the Council, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Article 19, Paragraph 1

This is reaffirmed in the Charter on Fundamental Rights, an equally important and binding piece of EU legislation:

Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic
features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority,
property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Article 21 on Non-discrimination, Paragraph 1

Following the Treaty of Amsterdam, the European Union has made anti-discrimination laws compulsory in a variety of fields since the early 2000s. The EU plays a central role in combating discrimination in Europe, and partly thanks to the European Parliament; but there are still significant shortcomings throughout the EU, which the Intergroup seeks to address.

Why is this a priority?

The table below summarises the current status of EU-wide anti-discrimination law:

Ground of discrimination
Banned in employment
Banned in access to goods and services
Banned in social protection
Banned in education
Race and ethnicityYesYesYesYes
AgeYesNot yetNot yetNot yet
AbilityYesNot yetNot yetNot yet
Religion or beliefYesNot yetNot yetNot yet
Sexual orientationYesNot yetNot yetNot yet
Multiple discriminationNoNoNoNo

We aim to ensure that all the grounds (as well as multiple discrimination) are protected under the law in all spheres of life, as well as ensure that ‘gender’ specifically covers gender identity. But the current legal coverage is far from universal. Significant advances would be made with the horizontal anti-discrimination directive proposed by the European Commission in 2008, thanks to which items ‘In discussion’ would become covered under EU law (according to the current proposal produced by the European Commission).

This has been on the EU’s fundamental rights agenda since the Employment Directive (2000/78/EC) was passed into law in 2000. President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso first announced a Commission proposal in 2004, and the final proposal was finally issued in July 2008, following repeated pressure from the Parliament. The European Parliament approved the Commission’s proposal in April 2009, and all 27 Member States are currently discussing their position in the European Council.

What is the Intergroup doing?

Since the Lisbon Treaty, the decision-making procedure for the directive has changed from ‘consultation’ to ‘assent’ (see an explanation of decision-making in the EU), which means that the Parliament will now need to express its opinion (and give or withhold its assent) on the text from the Council. This will be particularly important since the Council may not converge with the Parliament’s position. Therefore, the Intergroup on LGBT Rights is closely following the negotiations around the directive, in partnership with other Intergroups and civil society groups.

In addition to the horizontal anti-discrimination directive, the Intergroup also follows developments in Member States and candidate countries, for example in the case of Macedonia’s anti-discrimination law.

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