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
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:
Council of the European Union
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 ParliamentFor 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.
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
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.
How will standards help to improve equality in Europe?
Standards will lead to Equality Bodies that have:
This will, in turn, also contribute to:
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 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.
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 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), 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.