The past few months saw a major breakthrough in the recognition of and standards for equality bodies, with the EU’s anti-racism action plan raising the possibility of proposing EU-level legislation to strengthen the role and independence of equality bodies. Since then, the Disability, LGBTIQ+ and Roma Equality Strategies have reiterated this commitment by the European Commission. This has been confirmed, albeit without providing further details, in the Commission’s report on the application of the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) and the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC), acknowledging the crucial role of equality bodies as well as the numerous well-documented issues and challenges when it comes to their mandate, powers, independence, and resources.
It is important that EU equality strategies and the Commission’s report explicitly consider the possibility of proposing binding legislation to strengthen the role and independence of equality bodies. This demonstrates the high importance and potential that the European Commission attributes to these institutions in the anti-discrimination architecture, alongside civil society organisations.
Binding legislation on equality bodies would be a major step towards better implementation and enforcement of the EU’s equal treatment legislation. In the absence of specific and detailed provisions for the independence, mandate, resources and operations of equality bodies, Member States currently have a wide margin of appreciation to decide on the setting up and operations of these institutions. In practice, this has led to varying forms and levels of protection against discrimination and inequalities provided by equality bodies across Europe. This also manifests in some equality bodies around Europe facing significant challenges as regards their independence, mandate, powers and resources. The current situation endangers both the coherent implementation of EU equality legislation and strategies and the effective protection of the rights of all victims of discrimination across Europe.
Read our latest paper here, which sets out Equinet’s ambitions and proposals for EU legislation on equality bodies. It is based on and should be read together with the existing European Commission and ECRI Recommendations and prior Equinet publication and indicators (on mandate and on independence) on the issue. This is a working paper, striving to set a baseline for further discussions on future EU legislation on equality bodies.