Second, the report acknowledges the great diversity of equality bodies, noting that this diversity reflects a variety in Member States’ legal traditions and legal systems. This is diversity that we should accept and welcome. However, the report notes that this diversity also reflects different levels of ambition and achievement in Member States pursuing the objectives of the Directives. This leaves more room for concerns, given that ambition should be at the highest level across the Member States when talking about and acting upon fundamental rights and founding values of the European Union.
Third, the report reveals many issues and concerns. There are still gaps in the protection for some grounds and/or some fields in around a third of the Member States. Several equality bodies still lack the necessary litigation and/or decision-making powers to ensure effective support to victims of discrimination and even where the powers are there on paper, they are not always able to apply them to a significant extent in practice, partly because of insufficient resources. The level of resources is named as a major source of concern in general, where most equality bodies consider their resources inadequate – in terms of funding, number of staff and/or skill set of staff. This has repercussions for legal work, but also research, recommendations and policy work and the accessibility of equality bodies where they cannot set up the necessary regional and local offices. Worryingly, the report confirms that a significant number of equality bodies are not fully independent and depend on the government. The report notes that ‘this could raise serious concerns in less consensual political climates’ but seeks to reassure that ‘the equality body may still function quite independently in practice’. One must wonder whether ‘quite independent’ functioning should really be accepted as adequate when for instance in the case of data protection authorities the EU is more categorical and requires ‘complete independence’. The report also notes with concern the limited awareness of equality bodies’ existence. We must share this concern, a major source of under-reporting. However, we must also understand its reasons when several equality bodies struggle to ensure their independence, demonstrating that they are a ‘safe space’ and when several equality bodies do not have the necessary powers to effectively litigate or to issue dissuasive sanctions.
The views on this blog are always the authors’ and they do not necessarily reflect Equinet’s position.