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The idea that all individuals should possess equal rights is one of the central concepts of constitutional development in civil law. Hence, the Basic Law guarantees that all individuals shall be equal before the law (general principle of equality), that men and women shall have equal rights, and that no one may suffer prejudice or enjoy preference because of their sex, descent and race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political beliefs ( anti-discrimination laws ).

The principle of equality guarantees equality under the law in the sense that a statute may not be applied differently in identical situations, and constitutes a prohibition of arbitrary action by the state to the effect that no one may suffer prejudice in the exercise of the authority of the state unless there are material grounds adequately justifying differential treatment. Despite all attempts to make the corresponding criteria objective, the assessment of what represents differential treatment in particular circumstances involves subjective elements. Even the Federal Constitutional Court therefore allows the legislators extensive freedom in formulating the provisions of the law.

The principle of equality not only applies to the relationship between the individual citizen and the state but also has significance in private law ( third-party effect of constitutional rights ), although in this sphere it is largely obscured by the overarching principle of the freedom of the individual and contractual freedom. In labour law , however, the principle of equal treatment is of central importance.

Please note: the European industrial relations glossaries were compiled between 1991 and 2003 and are not updated. For current material see the European industrial relations dictionary.

Page last updated: 14 August, 2009