MINELRES: Fwd: A guardian against discrimination stops fighting?

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Thu Nov 26 17:21:22 2009

Original sender: Roma Virtual Network <romale@zahav.net.il>

A guardian against discrimination stops fighting?
By Nicolas Beger
Why are member states are discriminating against the anti-discrimination
Eurobarometer recently published a survey that once again showed that
there is a serious problem of discrimination across Europe. One in six
people said they had personally experienced discrimination in the past
year; 58% of Europeans considered that prejudice in relation to age was
widespread in their country, while 53% mentioned disability. 

For those who fail to be moved by statistics, consider this: in 2009
alone, we saw Roma communities being shot at in Hungary, stoned in
Ireland and evicted by force in Italy; and we saw Lithuania's parliament
‘protecting' its minors by adopting a law that bans public information
about homosexuality, putting homosexuality on a par with images of
mutilated bodies or physical violence. 

Though such episodes are disturbing, non-governmental organisations have
until now felt that some progress was being made on the EU level.
Fighting discrimination has been one of the few areas of social policy
about which the EU could be proud: were it not for EU instruments such
as the race and employment directives, there would still be no
protection in most member states today. 

But race and employment cover only some aspects of discrimination. That
is why, in July 2008, the European Commission proposed a new
anti-discrimination directive that, if passed, would give all citizens
basic protection in other major areas of life, such as housing,
education and healthcare. 

The directive has the support of the European Parliament, but,
regrettably, is stalled in the Council of Ministers, with countries like
Germany, the Netherlands and Poland expressing all sorts of reservations
and doubts. Surprised? So are we. 

The directive is by no means revolutionary. It only seeks to ensure a
very basic principle of democracies: equality before the law. What it
does is to recognise what we all know – that discrimination goes beyond
race and gender and affects areas of life outside the workplace. Every
day, across Europe, prejudices on the grounds of disability, age, sexual
orientation or religion put people in situations in which schools turn
down their children, apartments are suddenly no longer for rent and
medical consultations become a challenge. With the new
anti-discrimination directive, these citizens would be able to complain
and receive compensation. 

Money, however, is a sticking-point. Member states are worried about the
cost of compensation and of removing barriers for disabled people, for
example. Naturally, these countries claim to be extremely committed to
fighting discrimination; it's just that the financial crisis does not
permit such spending. Even if sincere, that is an argument in support of
a false economy: the social and economic costs of exclusion are far

Some countries, such as Germany, say that their national legislation on
discrimination is enough. Even if that were the case, why should Germany
prevent other Europeans from enjoying the same protection as its

The reality is that even countries usually associated with good practice
do not have legislation of the standard offered by the directive. Take
the Netherlands, where anti-discrimination legislation does not cover
age discrimination outside the workplace. Or Denmark, which lacks
legislation against discrimination based on sexual orientation,
religion, disability and age that affects access to social security,
healthcare and education. 

The Swedish presidency of the EU, once a key proponent of this
directive, seems to have lost its grip on the process. The issue has not
made it onto the agenda of any meeting of EU ministers and it was
included in this week's equality summit in Stockholm only after pressure
from civil society. 

It is not too late, though, for Sweden to stop member states from
endlessly delaying the directive's adoption and to prevent their
attempts to water down its provisions. These are old tactics that, if
successful, would amount to killing off the anti-discrimination
directive. If that happens, another piece of Europe's credibility will
have crumbled. 

Nicolas Beger is the director of Amnesty International's EU office.


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