Following the EU Anti-racism Action Plan and the LGBTIQ+ and Roma Equality Strategies, in which the Commission raised the possibility of proposing EU-level legislation to strengthen the role and independence of equality bodies, the Commission has launched on 24th July a new initiative through which it intends to strengthen equality bodies by setting minimum standards on how they operate in all grounds of discrimination and areas covered by EU equality rules.
Equality bodies play a crucial role in ensuring the effective application of the EU’s equal treatment legislation. They were entrusted by the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) and the Gender Equality Directives (2006/54/EC, 2004/113/EC and 2010/41/EU) to promote equal treatment (i) assisting victims of discrimination, (ii) conducting independent surveys, and (iii) publishing independent reports and making recommendations.
However, the current provisions on equality bodies leave a large discretion to the Member States as to the mandate, powers, independence, effectiveness and resources of these bodies. This has raised many issues and led to a challenging situation. There are still gaps in the protection for some grounds and/or some fields in around a third of Member States. There are important differences between the Member States in the structure and functioning of equality bodies, resulting in unequal protection against discrimination across the EU. Furthermore, a significant number of equality bodies are not fully independent from the government and the lack of resources prevent them from fulfilling their missions, such as conducting surveys. Finally, the Commission’s 2021 Staff Working Document highlights that the 2018 Commission Recommendation on standards for equality bodies has only partially been implemented by the Members States. Thus, most of the issues the Recommendation aimed to address remain unresolved.
The present initiative aims therefore to tackle these issues and further strengthen equality bodies’ visibility, role, and effective and independent functioning, by the adoption of new binding EU legislation on equality bodies.
The proposed initiative intends to set binding minimum standards for equality bodies, building on the 2018 Recommendation and also on other sources such as the General Policy Recommendation Nº2 of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the Paris Principles applied to National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).
According to the Roadmap, the Standards could address the following areas:
Equinet welcomes the European Commission’s commitment to strengthen equality bodies and looks forward to working closely with the European Commission for a dedicated and ambitious legislative proposal with provisions for robust standards. For this purpose, Equinet recently published its paper ‘Legislating for stronger, more effective equality bodies’, 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 the mandate and independence) on the issue. This is a working paper, striving to set a baseline for further discussions on future EU legislation on equality bodies.
A feedback period on this Roadmap is running from 23 July 2021 to 20 August 2021 (midnight Brussels time). Feedback will be taken into account for further development and fine-tuning of the initiative. Unlike stakeholder consultations, feedback mechanisms allow stakeholders to express general views, not based on specific questions provided by the Commission. You can provide your feedback views here. Equality bodies are warmly encouraged to give feedback.
The Roadmap sets out a consultation that aims to obtain complete and accurate data on the situation of equality bodies and the issues they are facing. This will enable the Commission to explore the different policy options and their economic impacts.
Equality bodies and Equinet will play a central role in the consultation:
Furthermore, an open public consultation that will run for a minimum of 12 weeks will be organised around Q4 2021.
At the end of the study and the consultation activities, an analytical document will be drawn up to present evaluative evidence concerning the current provisions on equality bodies (including the lack thereof) in some directives and how they are implemented, and an assessment of the different policy options and their economic impacts.