Members of the European Parliament have given their support to a new EU directive on discrimination in goods and services.

The EP Civil Liberties Committee chairman, Gérard Deprez of Belgium, congratulated the European Commission on the breadth of the proposed new rules.

In April it had looked like opposition from Germany and other member states would mean that European Union citizens would only be protected from discrimination on the grounds of disability.

However the Commission had a change of heart and widened the scope of the directive to include age, religion and sexual orientation.

Mr Deprez warned that it could be “emptied of substance by hasty recourse to concepts such as public order or public safety”, the reasons sometimes given in EU nations to ban gay rights marches.

The discrimination directive was presented to the European Parliament today by Commissioner Vladimír Špidla, responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, as part of “the largest package ever submitted by the Commission” to Parliament.

In all, 18 measures form a wide-ranging “social agenda” which is being supported by France, which holds the EU Presidency until December.

This new discrimination directive would ensure equal treatment in the areas of social protection, including social security and health care, education and access to and supply of goods and services which are commercially available to the public, including housing.

The law will prohibit direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment and victimisation.

Liberal Democrat Liz Lynne MEP whose own-initiative report on the need for the new directive was adopted by the European Parliament earlier this year, said at today’s debate on EU’s new social package:

“The proposed legislation is not perfect, we know, and we will want to see some changes.

“There is still a long way to go, we still have to convince all Member States. The European Union was founded on the basis of equality and human rights and I find it amazing that anyone could possibly object to putting in place legislation to protect everyone’s rights to be treated equally.

“I know many Member States already have similar legislation so I can’t understand why those very same Member States would try to block this proposal.”

MEPs will vote on the social package at their next session.