Anti-discrimination law still in limbo

The Anti-discrimination Act, through which the Czech Republic will adopt European law, has not yet come into force. President Václav Klaus vetoed the act, saying that it stood for the elimination of natural inequalities and was problematic. Meanwhile, some of the newer acts, such as the new Labour Code, include a reference to this law, thereby creating a gap in the country’s legislation. The act will be presented in parliament for an up-or-down vote on the president’s veto.

The Czech Republic remains the only European country which has not yet implemented Community regulations defining the right to equal treatment and banning discrimination in its legislative body. The Anti-discrimination Act should have been adopted before the Czech Republic’s accession to the European Union in May 2004. Since then, the European Commission has threatened the Czech Republic several times with a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for its failure to incorporate EU regulations into national law. In the event that the relevant legislation is not adopted, the country will be threatened with the imposition of sanctions.

Parliamentary decision-making process

Disputes about the adoption of wide-ranging anti-discrimination legislation in the Czech Republic have been raging for several years. While the left-wing Czech Social Democratic Party (Česká strana sociálně demokratická, ČSSD), which was the governing party until 2006, initiated the act at the time and supported its adoption, the now governing right-wing Civic Democratic Party (Občanská demokratická strana, ODS) has had longstanding reservations about the proposed legislation. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy, KSČM) has made the repeal of the so-called ‘lustration’ laws a condition for the adoption of the Anti-discrimination Act. The lustration laws prevent former senior representatives of the communist regime from holding certain positions in the public sector, and KSČM argues that this is discrimination.

For the implementation of European law in this area, the current coalition government comprising ODS, the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (Křesťanská a demokratická unie – Československá strana lidová, KDU–ČSL) and the Green Party (Strana zelených) decided to put forward one ‘umbrella’ act, which would deal exclusively with discrimination in every respect. The fear of EU sanctions eventually led the parliamentary parties to reach a consensus so that the parliament of the Czech Republic approved the Anti-discrimination Act, albeit in a reduced form, at the beginning of 2008. It is worth noting, however, that the act was adopted despite initial reservations with regard to the draft law across the entire political spectrum.

Nevertheless, this formal approach to transposing European anti-discrimination legislation into national law was not successful, since the President of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, vetoed the act. Some commentators characterised the parliamentary approach as one where ‘the European wolf could be fed and the Czech goat could remain in one piece’.

President’s justification for the veto

In giving the reasons for his decision, President Klaus, who is the former chair and now honorary member of ODS, stated that he considered the act to be ‘unnecessary, counterproductive and bad’ and that ‘its impact would be very problematic’. In his opinion, the act essentially does not contain anything which is not already included in existing laws. Instead of adopting an ‘umbrella’ act, he proposed implementing the specific EU legislation required by amending existing regulations.

Another reason for his rejection of the act was the division of the burden of proof between the plaintiff and the defendant, which circumvents a legal tradition of the Czech Republic. Finally, the president’s veto was also prompted by an accompanying resolution by the upper chamber of the Czech parliament, the Senate (Senát), concerning this legislation. The Senate declared that it did not identify with the umbrella act and that it only passed the act for the purpose of complying with European law.

Commentary

The Anti-discrimination Act now has to go back before the lower house of the Czech parliament, which can vote down the president’s veto. It remains to be seen whether pressure from the EU will help the Czech Republic approve the anti-discrimination law in the coming months. At the moment, however, it is not possible to rely on most of the political representatives becoming genuinely interested in the fight against discrimination.

Hana Doleželová, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (RILSA)

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