We need strong voices for equal treatment in everyday life and in the workplace. And we have many of them: but in Germany and elsewhere, they hardly ever come together to discuss pressing issues, to network and to work together. This is why on 2 and 3 December in Berlin, the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) in Germany hosted the first Anti-Discrimination Days, bringing together more than 450 representatives from politics and academia, business and administration, economy, culture, media, education and civil society in Berlin. The aim of this event was to provide a forum to identify common goals and to combine forces. The conference drew on interdisciplinary expertise and focused on intersectional forms of discrimination, with panel discussions, workshops and an accompanying cultural program.
Equinet was invited to hold a panel discussion about the future of European anti-discrimination legislation. The idea was to broaden the audience’s horizon, many of whom work at the local level in Germany, to provide an opportunity for them to ask experts from Brussels and Berlin about their expectations from the new EU leadership and to identify topics where the coming German presidency of the Council of the European Union could and should make a difference.
At the panel discussion, diverse speakers gave their input and point of view on the importance of the implementation of standards for equality bodies and new and foreseen legislation and policy, such as the Gender Equality Strategy.
Ulrike Helwerth from the National Council of German Women’s Organisations, presented the perspective of civil society. She stressed that the European Union (EU) has been a driving force for gender equality for decades, while Germany has often lagged behind European standards on equality and non-discrimination and those of other Member States. Germany is still seen as below average in many respects concerning equality law and policy, but developments at the EU level have also declined in recent years. Ulrike highlighted that if a Gender Equality Strategy is to achieve impact at the local level, there needs to be coherence between different policies at the national level and the EU level, and binding accountability processes for all Member States.
Szabolcs Schmidt, head of the Non-Discrimination and Coordination of Roma Affairs Unit in the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers of the European Commission, looked at other grounds of discrimination. He first emphasized the importance of ensuring availability of empirical knowledge about discrimination. From a legal point of view, he stressed that there is a protection gap for other grounds of discrimination different than gender and ethnic origin and that it is time to take up the Commission’s long-standing proposal for the so-called Horizontal Directive, which extends protection on the grounds of disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age beyond the field of employment and occupation.
Milla Vidina, Policy Officer at Equinet, focused on the importance of ensuring effective implementation of EU equality legislation and the important role of equality bodies in this context, as independent public watchdogs tackling discrimination and promoting equality. She explained that they can not only fight discrimination, by advising victims of discrimination for example, but also proactively promoting equal treatment through studies, surveys, training etc. She stressed that the German Presidency should not only be expected to send a strong political signal in favour of a progressive equality policy at the EU level, but also lend support to key legislative initiatives in the field of equality (e.g. the stalled Horizontal Directive Proposal, the blocked Women on Boards Directive, pay transparency measures to address the pervasiveness of the gender pay gap in Europe), particularly those that address the negative implications of structural and intersectional forms of discrimination.
Among other things, the discussion emphasized the importance of financial issues for anti-discrimination policy: for example, bureaucratic procedures make it difficult for smaller organisations and grassroots movements to receive EU funding, which prevents more radical change and inclusive, bottom-up participation. Lastly, the panel discussed what kind of demands could be achieved politically and how blockages – such as the German government’s rejection of the proposed Horizontal Directive – could be overcome. Some of the key potential solutions that were discussed in this regard was civil society effectively exerting pressure on governments in cooperation with national equality bodies and invoking and urging states to fulfil to their international human rights obligations.
If you want to see photos from the German Anti-Discrimination Days in Berlin, click here
To read more about the panel discussion, read the concept note.