On 3 May 2017, Equinet organised a strategic meeting for its members to discuss further steps that could be taken to achieve the introduction and strengthening of standards for equality bodies. The meeting was attended by 21 equality body staff members (representing 19 equality bodies) from 17 jurisdictions.
The Objectives of the meeting were to:
Mr. Szabolcs Schmidt, Head of Unit for Non-Discrimination and Roma Coordination (European Commission DG Justice and Consumers) joined participants for a lunch meeting and informal exchanges on the issue of standards for equality bodies.
Mr. Schmidt underlined that equality bodies make an important contribution to implementing the EU directives, without them the legislation would not be much more than a piece of paper. While he welcomed the diversity in how equality bodies are set up, organised, and operate, he opined that there is a need for certain minimum standards.
In reaction to Mr. Schmidt’s introduction equality body representatives shared some thoughts on their organisation’s situation and practical challenges such as political influencing, challenges to their independence, or disproportionate budget cuts suffered. They emphasized that as the setting up of equality bodies was a direct result of EU legislation in many jurisdictions, equality bodies look to the European Commission for cooperation, support and upholding standards not only in legislation and legal practice, but also concerning independence, and effectiveness of equality bodies.
The Session started with a report from Ms. Evelyn Collins, Equinet chair, recalling the state of affairs, Equinet activities and external developments since the publication of the Equinet Working Paper. Important milestones included:
Ms. Collins concluded that a lot of largely positive developments took place in the past two years and encouraged members to look at how we can move forward and capitalize on these.
Participants reported on the use they have made of the Equinet Working Paper, including
Twenty years after the adoption of the original version of GPR No. 2 in 1997, ECRI has decided to revise its text in order to include the experience and the many good practices that have developed during this time. The revised text shall help to further strengthen specialised bodies, which are vital for advancing equality and for eliminating racism and intolerance in a sustained manner.
A seminar with equality bodies will take place on 23-24 May with the aim of discussing the draft developed by ECRI’s working group with specialised bodies and to include their experience and standpoints.
Participants’ shared their views on the text of the GPR circulated for comments and while everyone welcomed the revision of the GPR, a diversity of views was apparent on the details.
Equinet will continue to engage on this topic at European level, not least as part of the ECRI conference taking place on this topic on 23-24 May 2017. Our 10th anniversary celebration, taking place on 10 October 2017, will also come back to this topic, especially from the point of view of promoting equality in a challenging environment.