Responses to Commission Green Paper on non-discrimination

In November 2004, the European Commission reported on the responses it had received to a Green Paper on non-discrimination it issued in June. The Commission states that the responses reveal a strong demand for more EU action in this field.

An online consultation exercise on a European Commission Green Paper entitled Equality and non-discrimination in an enlarged European Union was launched in June 2004 (EU0407203N) The Commission reported in November that it had received more than 1,500 contributions, with over two-thirds coming from individuals and the remainder coming from organisations or institutions. A vast majority of respondents (88%) said that the EU should step up its efforts to combat discrimination following enlargement.

Two EU Directives approved in 2000 - Directive 2000/43/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin (EU0006256F) and Directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (EU0102295F) - already prohibit discrimination in the areas of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. However, according to the Commission, opinions are divided as to whether these new Directives have yet had a tangible effect. While national authorities, equality bodies and employers feel that the results are already evident, individuals and non-governmental organisations are less positive. Overall, 49% of respondents feel that the new legislation’s impact has been, at best, limited. However, this may be due to delays in implementing the Directives in some Member States (EU0408202N).

Other issues raised in the consultation exercise included whether respondents feel that the existing legislation provides sufficient protection against discrimination. Here, too, diverse opinions were expressed, with some stakeholders wishing to bring the level of protection against discrimination on grounds of belief, age, disability and sexual orientation into line with protection against racial discrimination.

Just over one-third of respondents (34.2%) feel that legislation is the most effective tool in addressing issues of discrimination, compared with 31.2% who favour 'awareness raising' and 22.6% who favour 'affirmative action'. In general, respondents note that a lack of awareness about people’s rights is one of the main obstacles to fighting discrimination, together with discriminatory attitudes and behaviour and incomplete national implementation of EU legislation. They also cite the added value of EU funding in this area, especially the contribution made by the Community action programme to combat discrimination 2001-6. Respondents urged the Commission to continue its support for national authorities and others to combat discrimination, and called for support to be 'mainstreamed' across a range of policy and funding instruments.

In response, Vladimir Špidla, the new Commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, emphasised the importance of combating discrimination, stressing that the priorities of the new Commission include 'fundamental rights and the fight against discrimination'. He continued: 'The Green Paper consultation gives us a solid base for a broad EU agenda against all forms of discrimination.'

The Commission will issue a Communication on the basis of the findings of the consultation, which will set the broad agenda for future work, including how to involve key 'stakeholders' in the development of EU anti-discrimination policy.

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