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, the Race Equality Directive and Gender Equality Directives introduced in the early 2000s do not provide detailed guidance and standards for the setting up and operations of equality bodies.
2018 saw remarkable developments on providing standards for equality bodies, both by the European Commission and the Council of Europe’s ECRI (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance). These standards acknowledge and respond to the full diversity and complexity of equality bodies, with diverse types of mandates, sets of functions and competences and range of grounds covered being addressed. While not legally binding, they carry substantial political weight.
In 2021, the European Commission reported on the implementation of the Race Equality Directive. The report recognises the crucial role of equality bodies, which is supported by a separate Staff Working Document on Equality bodies and the implementation of the Commission Recommendation on standards for equality bodies. It committed to 'assess whether to propose new legislation to strengthen the role of national equality bodies by 2022’.
European Commission: Recommendation on Standards for Equality Bodies
The European Commission adopted a Recommendation on standards for equality bodies in June 2018, in order to ensure the independence and effectiveness of national equality bodies. The Recommendation, a legal act of the Commission, 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.
More concretely, the Commission recommends the following measures:
- Greater independence: Member States should ensure independence of equality bodies through their administrative structure, budget allocation, procedures for appointing and dismissing staff and preventing conflicts of interest. They should make it possible for equality bodies to gather evidence and information.
- Legal assistance: Member States should enable equality bodies to handle individual or collective complaints, provide legal assistance and represent victims or organisations in court.
- Adequate resources and staffing: Member States should ensure equality bodies have the necessary human, technical and financial resources and infrastructure.
- Effective coordination and cooperation: Member States should provide the necessary conditions to ensure appropriate communication between equality bodies within the Member State across the EU, and internationally.
Equinet was very pleased to welcome these standards, and has been working with the European Commission since its publication to promote the Recommendation to Member States.
"Discrimination has no place in the EU. We must ensure that our national equality bodies are independent, with the resources to do what they do best. They are the watchdogs of justice, ensuring all citizens are given equal rights and equal opportunities”, according to Věra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality (2014-2019), upon the adoption of the Commission Recommendation.
Indicators to measure standards for equality bodies
Equinet is using the practical experience and expertise of equality bodies to develop indicators in order 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.
The second set of indicators was developed to monitor the situation as regards the independence of equality bodies.
ECRI: Revised General Policy Recommendation No.2 on Equality bodies to combat racism and intolerance at national level
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 in December 2017. 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.
Equinet warmly welcomed the publication of this recommendation on 27 Feburary 2018 to strengthen the independence, effectiveness, functions and powers of equality bodies which will result in more equal societies for all.
"Equality bodies play an essential role in advancing equality and combating discrimination and intolerance. The ECRI General Policy Recommendation on the establishment and functioning of equality bodies recognises the importance of their work and offers clear guidance on how Council of Europe Member States can strengthen equality bodies to achieve equality and social cohesion. Equinet supports this call for independent and effective equality bodies with the powers and resources to ensure that our rights to equality are applied on the ground and made accessible to all," according to Equinet Chair Tena Šimonović Einwalter.
Equinet has worked hard to see improvements in this area, as first laid out in our working paper on developing standards for equality bodies, launched in June 2016, in the presence of Commissioner Jourova.
While the adoption, implementation and monitoring of standards for equality bodies is present in our work as a key horizontal priority, in our current Work Plan, we have a project that aims to support the understanding, implementation and monitoring of European standards for equality bodies at European and Member State level. This project group has been behind the development of the two sets of indicators (on mandate and independence, mentioned above) and they will also help us to contribute equality bodies’ experiences and expertise to the Commission’s legislative initiative to strengthen the role and independence of equality bodies.