Brussels, 5 November 2019
It was a sunny day in Luxembourg on 24 October and the first ever opportunity for Equinet to address the EU’s Council of Ministers responsible for employment and social policies, providing inputs to their discussions on EU equality legislation.
There are at least two reasons that make this opportunity remarkable: first, Ministers have not had a meaningful political debate on equality legislation in many years and second, it is not typical that equality bodies or other external invitees would be invited to address the Council. These are important achievements and we have a lot to thank to the Finnish EU Presidency for their commitment to make this happen.
The topic of the discussions was the so-called Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive and chances are, if you’re working in this field, there is very little need to explain the background of this legislative proposal which has been stuck in Council negotiations for over 11 years now. Our contribution made it clear that this negligence and delay means failing millions of people in the EU who may continue to be discriminated on the basis of their age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation. We reminded ministers that this proposal is ultimately about the fundamental values of the Union and action must be taken to ensure equality and non-discrimination for all.
Were they convinced? Some, perhaps. Given the chance to stay in the room after my presentation to listen to the contributions of all Member States, it was reassuring to see that all ministers confirmed their commitment to the value of equality and most of them took great pride in speaking about their country’s advanced equality legislation, often covering most or all areas listed in the proposed Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive. Some ministers clearly and strongly supported the swift adoption of the directive, perhaps even expressing some frustration and impatience.
"We reminded ministers that the proposed Horizontal Directive is ultimately about the fundamental values of the Union and action must be taken to ensure equality and non-discrimination for all.” Equinet Deputy Director, Tamás Kádár
At the end of the day I left the room with mixed feelings. Views of many EU Member States still seem to be unfortunately rather reserved and negative. However, I see some opportunities as well. It is a welcome step that the Council had a political debate on the proposal after so many years of silence. This will hopefully help to clarify positions and find ways forward. With clearer positions, Helena Dalli, the new, dedicated Commissioner for Equality, who has a proven track record of successfully finding compromise solutions on difficult issues, could succeed in dislodging negotiations from the current stalemate. Finally, equality bodies and civil society working on equality can continue to build up evidence and pressure. I feel that the coming months could well prove decisive for the future of this proposal and equality legislation in general.The views on this blog are always the authors’ and they do not necessarily reflect Equinet’s position.