Fight against Discrimination : Parliament Demands Commitment from Commission

Article excerpt

The warning is clear. In an own-initiative report adopted, on 20 May, by a clear majority (362 votes for - left-wing parties, Liberals and democrats, 262 votes against - main from the EPP - and 56 abstentions), the European Parliament asked the European Commission to act determinedly against all forms of discrimination and to quickly adopt an overall directive targeting all motives for discrimination not yet covered by EU law.

Though the principle of a directive to combat discrimination against handicapped people and on the basis of age in the access to goods and services (housing, education, transport) seems to be a given - a text is being prepared in the European Commission - for the other motives for discrimination (sexuality, religion), the EU executive is hesitant. A hesitation which is not down to Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, who is "strongly engaged with this question," assure MEPs specialising in the dossier, but rather to "the lack of courage on the part of President Barroso who cedes to the reluctance of some member states". The question of equal rights for homosexuals or Muslims arouses a certain reluctance in some countries. Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic in particular are against such a global proposal.

A PROMISE FROM 2004

"The Commission made the commitment to a comprehensive directive in its work programme for 2008, [but] there appears to be some backtracking on this and they might only bring forward legislation on disability and nothing else. This is not acceptable," said the rapporteur, Elisabeth Lynne (ALDE, UK). "I have campaigned for years for a legislation on disability and age, and I am now convinced that no one should be forgotten. We must move away from the piecemeal approach, there can be no hierarchy of discrimination." The same sentiment from the PES. Martin Schulz, the leader of the group, reiterates that "at the start of his term [2004], after the Buttiglionne episode, Commission President Barroso assured us that he wanted to put in place a comprehensive approach allowing all forms of decrimination to be covered. Today, almost four years later, he has to keep that promise." "We cannot accept the argument of saying that some member states are against a directive," adds Kathalijne Buitenweg (Greens, Netherlands). "If we had to wait for all the member states to agree, there would never be progress in the EU." "It is up to the European Commission to lead a political debate, to dispel reluctance," adds her Catalan colleague, Raul Romeva i Rueda. The European People's Party is of the contrary opinion. But its directive specifying that "a non-specific directive prohibiting discrimination" was not "the appropriate tool for dealing with the complex needs of individuals" was defeated (284 votes in favour, 371 against and 19 abstentions).

The new directive should ban, stresses the Parliament's report, any form of discrimination, direct or indirect, in all the fields where Europe is competent: education, lifelong learning, social protection, housing, health care, images in media and advertising, physical access of the disabled to information, telecommunications, electronic communications, different modes of transport and public places, social advantages, as well as goods and services made available to the general public. …