Byline: RONAN MULLEN
INSANITY, according to Albert Einstein,consistsinrepeat-edly doing the same thing and expectingadifferentresult. Thelatestproposeddirective from the European Commission brings the aphorism to mind.
The Commission might have looked at the IrishverdictontheLisbonTreatyand decided to pull in its horns on any sensitive issueswhereEUprioritiesmightconflict with Irish values. Indeed, prior to the referendum, the Commissiongave every impressionofsensitivitywhenitsuddenlyand mysteriouslyforgotitsconcernsabout aspects of our employment equality legislation. But now its business asusual. Commission officials have drafted a directive to outlaw direct andindirect discrimination outsidetheworkplaceonanumberof grounds.Itsanotherofthoseproposals that sounds very reasonable but could pose problems in practice.
On the plus side, it can help to show that the EU has a heart. French presidentNicolasSarkozy,whosecountryholdstheEU presidency,isoneofmanyleadingEuropeans who perceive the growing disillusionment of ordinary Europeans withthe EU.
Theproposedsolutiontosuchdisenchantment is to concentrate on doing more for the citizens. Hence thesocial protection agenda and the anti-discrimination drive.
ButperhapstheEuropeanpoliticalelite hasmissedthepoint.Whatisdrivingthe discontentofordinaryEuropeansisnot their sense that their political masters are failingtobuildasocialEurope.Itsthat ordinary European citizens feel disengaged from the project. They arefrustrated that they have no real way of influencing the legislativeprocess,sincetheycantholdany single,identifiablepoliticianaccountable for any EU action. The consultative manner inwhichEUlegislationisframedmeans thateveryone is responsible. Which of course means that nobody is responsible.
So it is unlikely that this new directive, or evenawholeslewoflegislativemeasures, willsuddenlyconvincedoubtingEuropeans.Butthenewdirectivemaydeepen existingconcernsabouthowEuropehandlessensitiveculturalandmoralissues. European politicians such as veteran LuxembourgprimeministerJeanClaude Junckerwerequicktospotthatsocial issueswereakeyreasonforIrelandsNo vote to Lisbon. Yet this latest anti-discrimination proposal could well cutacross Irish decision-making on sensitive issues.
The European Commission tries to assuage such concerns within the text of theproposal. It acknowledges that issues such as the organisation and content ofeducation, recognition of marital or family status, adoption, reproductiverights and other similar questions are best decided at national level.
OnthatbasistheDirectivedoesnot thereforerequireanyMemberStateto amenditspresentlawsandpracticesin relation to these issues. Nor does the proposalaffectnationalrulesgoverningthe activitiesofchurchesandotherreligious organisations or their relationship with the state. Member Statesalone will be allowed to decide whether to allow selective admission toschools, or prohibit or allow the wearing or display of religious symbols inschools, whether to recognise same-sex marriages, and the nature of anyrelationship between organised religion and the State.
The new directive provides for the prohibitionofdiscriminationinareassuchas social security and health care, education, the provision of goods andservices, includinghousingandsocialadvantages.In termsofgoodsandservices,onlyprofessional or commercial activities are covered. Inotherwords,transactionsbetweenprivate individuals acting in a private capacity wontbedealtwithunderthelegislation. The renting out of a room in a private house wont be treated inthe same way as letting rooms in a hotel.
ON THE surface, all of this seems quitebalanced,andtherefore rather comforting. But we alreadyhaveexperienceofhow Europeandirectivescanbe interpreted in surprising ways. The precise meaning of social advantages isnot clear. Coulditbeexpanded,perhaps,toforce …