Standards for Equality Bodies

EU legislation in 2000 (through the Race Equality Directive) introduced a requirement to designate bodies for the promotion of equality. As a result, today National Equality Bodies work in most European countries, going well beyond EU Member States.

EU Directives remain limited to providing for the establishment of Equality Bodies and vesting them with a minimum set of functions. In December 2022, to fulfill their potential and maximise their impact, the European Commission proposed legislation for binding standards on the mandate, independence, resources, tasks and powers of Equality Bodies to (1) engage in the prevention of discrimination and awareness raising activities, and (2) deal with cases of discrimination/assist victims.

Proposals for new EU Directives on Binding Standards for Equality Bodies

On 7 December 2022, the European Commission proposed two Directives that aim at ensuring a better application and enforcement of EU anti-discrimination rules:

  • 2022/0400 (COD): Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on standards for equality bodies in the field of equal treatment and equal opportunities between women and men in matters of employment and occupation, and deleting Article 20 of Directive 2006/54/EC and Article 11 of Directive 2010/41/EU. This proposal is based on Article 157(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
  • 2022/0401 (APP): Proposal for a Council Directive on standards for equality bodies in the field of equal treatment between persons irrespective of their racial or ethnic origin, equal treatment in the field of employment and occupation between persons irrespective of their religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, equal treatment between women and men in matters of social security and in the access to and supply of goods and services, and deleting Article 13 of Directive 2000/43/EC and Article 12 of Directive 2004/113/EC. This proposal is based on Article 19(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

    These proposals lay down standards for Equality Bodies to ensure that people in all Member States enjoy a common minimum level of protection against discrimination. The proposals address the following areas:
  • Enhanced competences
  • Independence
  • Sufficient resources
  • Accessibility for all victims
  • Consultation on law- and policy making process
  • Enhanced powers in discrimination cases
  • Awareness raising
  • Sharing expertise
  • Indicators to assess the effects of the proposed measures and ensure comparability of data collected at national level

  • Council of the European Union

    Having made great advances under the Swedish Presidency, on 12 June, employment and social affairs ministers agreed to a Council general approach on the two proposals that will strengthen the independence and functioning of equality bodies in the EU, helping to prevent discrimination and better protect victims.

    One of the general approaches agreed will be negotiated under the ordinary legislative procedure (Article 157 TFEU) and provides the upcoming Spanish presidency of the Council with a mandate to begin negotiations with the European Parliament, with a view to reaching a provisional agreement. Regarding the proposal negotiated under a special legislative procedure (Article 19 TFEU), the European Parliament will be requested to give its consent.

    European Parliament

    For proposal 2022/0400 (ordinary legislative procedure), the committee responsible is FEMM, supported by EMPL. For proposal 2022/0401 (consent procedure), the committee responsible is FEMM, supported by LIBE, and EMPL.

  • In the FEMM Committee, Sirpa Pietikäinen, from Finland and a member of the European People’s Party Group, was appointed rapporteur.
  • The EMPL Committee appointed Vice-President of the European Parliament and member of S&D, Marc Angel, as Rapporteur.
  • The shadow rapporteurs have also been appointed in the FEMM Committee: Carina Ohlsson (Sweden) for S&D, Irène Tolleret (France) for Renew Europe, Kira Marie Peter-Hansen (Denmark) for the Greens and Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (Spain) for The Left.

    On 24 May, representatives from the Equinet Secretariat and Equality Bodies were invited by the FEMM Committee to discuss the content of the proposals at an ‘Exchange of Views’. You can access the recording of the discussion on the European Parliament’s website.

    The two co-rapporteurs, Sirpa Pietikäinen and Marc Angel, drafted a report with proposed amendments to the European Commission’s proposals. On 30 August, the draft report by the co-rapporteurs was presented to the FEMM and EMPL Committees.
  • European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)

    The EESC is an advisory body of the EU, bringing together representatives from three groups: employers, workers and civil society organisations. The EESC discussed the proposals, including at a public hearing on 16 January 2023, and delivered its Opinion on Strengthening the role and independence of equality bodies on 22 March 2023.

    The position of Equinet & Equality Bodies towards the EU Directives on Binding Standards for Equality Bodies

    Equinet generally welcomes that the proposals set a high level of ambition to strengthen Equality Bodies in practice. Binding legislation on standards for Equality Bodies will be a major step towards better implementation and enforcement of the EU’s equal treatment legislation, helping to fulfil its ultimate goal of creating equal societies and eradicating discrimination.  
    However, we have some suggestions for improvement. These are outlined in full in Equinet’s position paper ‘Moving forward the European Commission’s proposals for Directives strengthening Equality Bodies’.

    We will work with all our partners to support the legislative process and ensure comprehensive and ambitious standards are adopted and implemented, so that Equality Bodies can work to protect citizens’ rights, act as a valued partner on equality and non-discrimination across Europe, and ultimately, guarantee more equal societies for all.

    Why do we need binding Standards for Equality Bodies?

    Equality Bodies are unique state institutions that have already proven their potential to promote equality and fight discrimination, in spite of working in a difficult environment. Binding legislation on standards for Equality Bodies will be a major step towards better implementation and enforcement of the EU’s equal treatment legislation.

    The current provisions on Equality Bodies leave a large discretion to the Member States as to the mandate, powers, independence, and resources of these bodies. Differences between the Member States in the structure and functioning of Equality Bodies result in unequal protection against discrimination across the EU. There are still gaps in the protection for some grounds and/or some fields in around a third of Member States, which is clearly outlined in our Brochure. 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. Some of them are also hard to access, due to their small size, lack of local offices and/or lack of real visibility.

    How will standards help to improve equality in Europe? 

    Standards will encourage a more equal Europe, where effective protection from discrimination is a reality for everyone, and Equality Bodies are recognised as the cornerstones of national equality infrastructures. With the implementation of legislation on standards for Equality Bodies, they will carry out their work more effectively, based on a comprehensive mandate, being fully independent from the government, well-resourced, fully accessible, and with the necessary powers to achieve change.

    Standards will lead to Equality Bodies that have:  
  • Better guarantees for their independence  
  • More adequate resources to promote equality and fight discrimination, including assisting victims 
  • More adequate powers to achieve their objectives of full equality  
  • Wider mandates to cover all manifestations of discrimination  
  • Higher standards and resources to ensure full accessibility to all  

    This will, in turn, also contribute to: 
  • Uniform application of EU equal treatment law  
  • Equality being more effectively safeguarded, with better access to justice for all 
  •  Across the EU, every person benefitting from better institutional protection against discrimination, no matter in which country they live 
  • Equinet and Standards for Equality Bodies

    Equinet’s Project on Standards for Equality Bodies has grown out of an initiative that saw Equality Bodies come together from 2015 to discuss the most appropriate ways of improving the guarantees for the independence, effectiveness and functioning of Equality Bodies and that led to the adoption of a working paper on the topic in 2016. This project has been a driver for engagement with the European Institutions on proposed EU-level legislation strengthening the role and independence of Equality Bodies. As part of this project, Equinet is using the practical experience and expertise of Equality Bodies to develop indicators to measure compliance with standards for Equality Bodies. These indicators can contribute to measuring adherence to the standards. They are designed to help European Institutions, Member States and Equality Bodies themselves to monitor the situation and to identify any necessary improvements to the status and work of Equality Bodies.

    The first set of indicators was developed to monitor the situation as regards the mandate of Equality Bodies, and the second one to monitor the situation as regards the independence of Equality Bodies.

    In 2021, these indicators were tested for adequacy and usability by five Equality Bodies (from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany and Romania). A report was developed to summarise and evaluate the learnings from the piloting of these indicators and suggest ways in which these indicators can inform the planned legislation on standards for Equality Bodies.

    Equinet also produced a two-pager on litigation powers of Equality Bodies, which explains the different legal standings that Equality Bodies may have, with concrete examples from Equinet members.

    Equinet's paper <a target=
    Measuring standards for Equality Bodies: indicators for self-assessment, including indicators on Mandate, Independence, and Resources.

    How did we get here?

    Recommendations on Standards for Equality Bodies

    European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

    ECRI already advocated for the setting up of Equality Bodies in 1997, in the original version of its General Policy Recommendation No. 2. In December 2017 the Revised GPR No.2, General Policy Recommendation on Equality bodies to combat racism and intolerance at national level was adopted at ECRI’s 74th plenary meeting. It addresses the establishment of Equality Bodies, the institutional architecture of Equality Bodies, their functions and competences and their independence, effectiveness and accessibility. This set of standards is used as part of the country monitoring by ECRI and the constructive dialogue between ECRI and the Council of Europe member states.

    European Commission

    In June 2018, the European Commission adopted a Recommendation on standards for Equality Bodies to ensure the independence and effectiveness of national Equality Bodies. The Recommendation, a legal act of the Commission (but not legally binding), set minimum standards concerning the mandate of Equality Bodies; their independence; their effectiveness, including sufficient resources and appropriate powers; and the national institutional architecture for equality.

    The 2021 report on the application of the Racial Equality Directive and the Employment Equality Directive and its accompanying Staff Working Document on Equality Bodies showed that most issues addressed by the recommendation remained unresolved.

    Following the EU Anti-racism Action Plan, the LGBTIQ+ and Roma Equality Strategies, as well as the Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life, in which the Commission raised the possibility of proposing EU-level legislation to strengthen the role and independence of Equality Bodies, on 24 July 2021 the Commission launched a new initiative through which it intended to strengthen Equality Bodies by setting minimum standards on how they operate in all grounds of discrimination and areas covered by EU equality rules.

    The EC held a public consultation from 10 December 2021 to 18 March 2022 to inform the Commission’s work on further measures to strengthen Equality Bodies. It gathered opinions on the current situation of equality bodies and possible future improvement. Information on the personal experiences of the individual respondents were also gathered to inform the analysis of their replies.

    Further Reading