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.
However, EU Directives remain limited to providing for the establishment of equality bodies and vesting them with a minimum set of functions. To fulfill their potential and maximise their impact, standards on the independence, effectiveness, functions, and powers of equality bodies have been recommended by the European Commission and the Council of Europe.
Why Standards for Equality Bodies
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. 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. 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.
Recommendations on Standards for Equality Bodies
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)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 CommissionIn 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), sets 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.
Proposed Legislative Initiative - Equality Bodies: Binding Standards
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 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.
The proposed initiative intends to set binding minimum standards for equality bodies, building on the 2018 Commission 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 and Standards for 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 os these indicators and suggest ways in which these indicators can inform the planned legislation on standards for equality bodies.
Current state of affairs
Public consultationThe 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.
NEXT STEPSOn 24 May, as part of the European Year for Youth, the Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli met with young people from across Europe to discuss 'Equality Bodies that work for all of us'. This Policy Discussion was webstreamed. This link is also valid for the video recording material and will remain available after the event for 2 years. For more on this experience, read Mariam Rechchad's blog post 'Youth at the table: mainstreaming youth voices in policy making'.
The Commission will publish the proposed Directive(s) on binding standards for equality bodies in November 2022. The legislative process and adoption of the Directive(s) by the Council and Parliament will follow.
For a detailed timeline of all past activities related to this initiative, see our FAQ.