Brussels (Brussels Morning) The lack of comprehensive equality legislation across Europe is well known amongst those concerned with the issue. This is particularly the case with the EU Equal Treatment Directive having been blocked in the Council of the EU since 2008. However, the fact that our Member States also obstruct their own national equality laws has been much less discussed in Brussels.
As well-noted by María Eugenia Rodríguez Palop, a Spanish MEP of the Left, the EU Directive is not only blocked, but has become outdated due to new forms of discrimination, the increase of racism and xenophobia, right wing extremism, the pandemic and other factors.
That much can nevertheless be done at the level of Member States while waiting for the Union to respond to reality is also emphasised by Henri Nickels (Policy Coordinator of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights). ARDI Co-President Mónica Silvana González MEP also sent a strong message stating that “It is crucial to address discrimination in all its complexity, given that in it is the underlying factor for hate speech and ultimately hate crimes. Fighting discrimination is therefore not only an objective on its own, but also a crucial step in the fight against hate crimes”.
Yesterday’s half-day lively debate featured speakers who together developed a high-quality contribution – an overview of not only where the gaps are, but also of what steps to take to close them. “Elements such as strong and independent equality bodies, a system of effective sanctions and remedies, intersectionality, as well as the collaboration between equality bodies, governments and civil society must be included in equality legislation”, said Sara Gimenez, President of the Fundación Secretariado Gitano.
It was crucial to have not just legislators and civil society, but also the Commission on board. “The protection offered by the law is critical in the fight against racism and in ensuring that the rights of people experiencing racism and discrimination are achieved”, said the first European Commission Anti-Racism Coordinator Michaela Moua, demonstrating the commitment of the Commission to prepare new legislation to strengthen equality bodies. “The current initiative aims at adopting binding legislation on standards for equality bodies by the end of 2022”, she specified.
As Vladimir Paspuel (President of Asociación Rumiñahui and a representative of the Spanish Alliance for an Equal Treatment Law), Martin Mörk (Deputy Director Swedish Equality Ombudsman), and Tamás Kádár (Deputy Director of Equinet) agreed, a law that is not applied has no purpose. And therein lies the importance of activating it and having a system of sanctions in place that would make clear to those violating human rights that there will be consequences; as well as having an integral reparation model that will not only cover the economic question, this approach also has an in-built victim-based approach.
Other topics included the relevance of enacting legislation that will effectively cover intersectional discrimination (Tania Sordo, Gender and Human rights expert) at the national and EU level, as well as ensuring equality bodies live up to their full potential by both amending their national equality legislation and securing the conditions in EU law for the independent and efficient functioning of Equality Bodies (Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy director of ILGA Europe & Tena Šimonović Einwalter, Croatian Ombudswoman and Equinet Chair).
Vladimir Paspuel and Cristina de la Serna Sandoval, who moderated the discussions, summarised the importance of the event: “We hope that the lawmakers will be inspired by these inputs, in order to achieve a norm with an effective system of sanctions and remedies to tackle all forms of discrimination, including intersectional discrimination, and the establishment of an equality body with enough resources to protect victims and face discrimination without undue government interferences”.
“Equality is not a luxury, it is simply a necessity”, Anne Gaspard, the Executive Director of EQUINET reminded us of a simple yet not, thus far, embraced truth.