Commissioner Jacques Barrot has told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that the European Commission will propose a cross-cutting directive aimed at combating discrimination on grounds of age, disability, religion/belief and sexual orientation in areas outside the field of employment.

A joint statement released by civil society organisations and trade unions working for equality, human rights and social justice warmly welcomed the news and congratulated President Barroso and the EC.

“We greatly appreciate their political leadership in making this important decision to extend the protection against discrimination to all non-discrimination grounds mentioned under the EU Treaty, and to ensure that all people in Europe are equally protected from discrimination and enjoy the same rights.

“We also thank the European Parliament for its strong support and we now hope that this initiative gets the full support of all EU Member States,” they said.

The act was going to only cover discrimination against the disabled at one point.

The commission announced in April that opposition from Germany and other member states meant that European Union citizens would not be protected from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

However earlier this month, the Commission had a change of heart and widened the scope, adding age, religion and sexual orientation to the list.

European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Gerneal Secretary John Monks said:

“This would give a strong message to the Member States of the EU and their citizens that we cannot build a modern and cohesive society on discrimination.

“With the ageing of our populations, the growing of our societies in terms of ethnic origin and religion, and the increasing intolerance against people because of their different sexual orientations, a strong and coherent body of law – protecting all our citizens from discrimination wherever they are in the EU – should be the priority target.”

This would hopefully send a strong warning to countries who have so far ignored the law.

Lithuania, for example, has recently tried to remove age, disability and sexual orientation protections from the new draft law on equal opportunities.

The legislation was rescheduled when not enough MPs turned up to vote for it.