Having committed to bringing forward a comprehensive proposal on a range of discrimination grounds this year, the Commission now appears to be backtracking, suggesting that it will focus only on disability.

Ms Lambert has been working with the Commission, NGOs and other MEPs to develop an anti-discrimination directive to protect against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, age, religion or belief and disability.

However, the Commission is concerned that a “horizontal directive” would not be supported by all member states, which could be problematic because unanimity would be required in council to approve the proposal.

Instead the proposed new directive will deliver protection on grounds of disability alone with recommendations regarding discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, age and religion or belief.

Jean Lambert MEP, co-president of the Intergroup on Ageing and member of the Intergroups on Disability and Gay and Lesbian Rights said:

“This decision is a real blow to the protection of many groups experiencing discrimination in the European Union.

“The directive is being held back by the most conservative countries and those, like the UK, who have progressive laws on this issue, have failed to push for protection across the EU.

The Czech Republic is also known to be opposed, he said, while Sweden, Finland, Spain and the UK are strongly in favour.

She continued, “Age and LGBT campaigners are sorely disappointed by the lack of leadership that the UK has taken, instead having chosen to develop its own legislation outside of the European process.

“This now leaves UK citizens open to discrimination across Europe and little hope of a horizontal directive coming back to the table in the short-term.

“Along with my colleagues who fought for this directive in the first place, I will continue to demand that this situation is reviewed with the intention of developing a directive covering all types of discrimination as soon as possible.”

Juris Lavrikous of the International Lesbian and Gay Association told the EU observer, “This is a huge step back.”

“We’re extremely disappointed, as we’ve been working on this within our network for literally years, and we don’t understand why the commission is afraid of taking on member states where such a move isn’t popular.

“There have been so many other proposals that haven’t been popular in certain member states – certainly such as over energy issues – and still directives have gone ahead.

EU legislation already exists to protect from discrimination on grounds on gender, race and ethnic origin.