A leading British member of the European parliament has attacked the Conservative party for refusing to support a new “horizontal” EU directive on discrimination.

The parliament is discussing the resolution Progress made in equal opportunities and non-discrimination in the EU.

It asks the European Commission to stay committed to the Commission’s work plan for 2008 and to produce a proposal for one ‘horizontal’ anti-discrimination directive covering all grounds of discrimination, including sexual orientation.

A final decision on the discrimination directive is expected on 25th June.

There is at present no EU law protecting LGB people from discrimination in areas such as goods and services which exist for race and gender.

All forms of discrimination at work are already covered by directives.

Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, covering race and employment directives, requires EU member states to introduce legislation to outlaw unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability and age in the fields of employment and training.

A directive to combat discrimination on the remaining grounds of Article 13 was announced in the Commission’s work programme for 2008.

EU directives are legislation that requires member states to, for example, deal with discrimination, but leaves it up to the states to decide on the best course of action to take.

Earlier this month the European Parliament’s all-party social affairs committee voted for a framework directive against all forms of discrimination, despite firm opposition by right-wing MEPs.

In 2004 Mr European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made a statement before the Parliament promising to personally ensure that the legal protections would be enlarged to all forms of discrimination.

The European Parliament has called for such a directive at least on seven occasions in the past eight years.

Opposition from Germany and other member states means that European Union citizens will not be protected by an EU directive from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, the Commission announced last month.

“The Commission would still prefer to have a ‘horizontal’ directive that covers all the discrimination grounds in all the areas that are not covered yet,” Jan Jarab of the Employment Department of the Commission told the BBC’s The Record: Europe.

“Having said that, we need to be realistic, and we have signals from some member states that they would not support such a horizontal directive and this, of course, is a problem because we need unanimity in council to get the proposal through.

“So at present we are envisaging a bit of a compromise which means a directive that will be specific to disability, which of course is a discrimination ground that we can justify, referring to the new international convention on disabilities.”

Asked why the Commission is not challenging member states to come out and say they oppose protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, he said that even the disability directive will be “quite challenging.”

“On the other remaining grounds, age, sexual orientation and religion, we will issue recommendations, as opposed to a directive,” he said.

Labour Euro MPs have led the calls for new EU equal rights legislation and condemned Conservatives for supporting a ‘hierarchy of discrimination’ in the European Parliament.

Michael Cashman MEP, President of the Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights of the European Parliament, said:

“Not only have Conservative MEPS failed time and time again to support anti-discrimination legislation, they actually boast about it.

“Just a few weeks ago they proudly announced that they had stood up for companies that wished to discriminate in the supply of goods and services.

“Labour MEPS have always supported legislation to end discrimination in the supply of goods and services on the grounds of disability, religion or belief, age and sexual orientation.”

Deborah Lambillotte, Co-Chair of the Executive Board of gay rights group ILGA-Europe, said:

“We hope MEPs will support the resolution calling on the Commission to end hierarchy of protection in the EU.

“Just two weeks ago Mr Barroso acknowledged that there is “a lively debate on the need for further anti-discrimination legislation at European level” and assured that “this debate is not about whether to combat discrimination; it is about how to do so most effectively.”

Amendments tabled by Labour MEPs say that any new directive should prohibit all forms of discrimination, including direct and indirect discrimination, in all areas that fall under the EU competences as well as education, lifelong learning, social protection and social security, housing and healthcare, images of discriminated groups in the media and advertising, physical access for people with disabilities to information, telecommunication, electronic communications, transport modes and public spaces, social advantages and access to and supply of goods and services with are available to the public.