Proposals from the European Commission for combating discrimination
"Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty, and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission, and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation."
During 2000, three important new measures to combat discrimination, based on Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, were adopted unanimously by the Council of Ministers of the European Union. As a result, we will have, for the first time, a comprehensive set of anti-discrimination measures and a minimum standard of legal protection against discrimination that will apply across the European Union.
Although the European Union has been concerned with discrimination issues since its inception, it was not until 1997, when the Treaty of Amsterdam amended the Treaty of Rome, that anti-discrimination was included as a basic founding principle of the Union.
Article 13, approved as part of the Amsterdam Treaty, provided the European Union with a legal basis to take action to combat discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
The general principles of Article 13 are not themselves legally binding. To give effect to Article 13, the Council of Ministers have approved two directives proposing minimum standards of legal protection against discrimination throughout the European Union, and an Action Programme to support practical efforts in the member states to combat discrimination.
The Article 13 package
An Employment Directive, which requires member states to make discrimination unlawful on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in the areas of employment and training.
A Race Directive, which requires member states to make discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin unlawful in the following areas:
For the first time, anyone working, or simply travelling, within the European Union will be entitled to the same minimum level of protection from discrimination in all the member states.
The directive specifically excludes protection against discrimination on grounds of nationality, which is dealt with separately in the Treaty.
An Action Programme, to run from 2001-6, which will allocate 100 million euros over six years to fund practical action by member states to promote racial equality in all the areas covered by the two directives.
The Action Programme aims to promote 'transnational co-operation' between organisations in the 15 member states in tackling discrimination throughout the European Union, and to encourage the exchange of ideas and information. It will be administered by the European Commission, assisted by an advisory committee made up of representatives from all the member states.
Why is the package important?
Many member states already have laws prohibiting discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, and applying criminal sanctions for racist violence and incitement of racial hatred, but the scope and enforceability of these measures vary considerably. Similarly, there has been no consistent level of protection in the European Union against discrimination on grounds of religion, disability, age or sexual orientation. (Sex discrimination is already covered by existing European Union legislation.) The two directives under Article 13 provide, for the first time, a common legal framework of minimum protection against all forms of discrimination across all 15 member states of the European Union (including the UK).
The directives, with the Action Programme, will also serve as an unequivocal statement of the European Union's commitment to a society free of discrimination, and as an encouragement to other countries, especially those which have applied to join the European Union, to promote and adopt effective policies for equal treatment.
The directives require action by each member state. They lay down broad objectives to ensure that discrimination is prohibited and that victims are entitled to a minimum level of redress. Member states are free to introduce greater degrees of protection, in accordance with their individual histories and traditions: where higher levels of protection already exist in national law, the member state will be required to uphold these.