Diplomats, gay rights advocates and equal opportunities experts are meeting in France today to discuss how to apply the principles of non-discrimination in the European Union.

400 delegates will assess the commitments undertaken by the countries which took part in the European Year of Equal Opportunities in 2007.

The International Lesbian and Gay Association is address the two-day summit on the issue of access to education.

“2007 was the European Year of Equal Opportunities for all, and gave a new boost to the fight against discrimination and the promotion of equality in Europe by mobilising and strengthening co-operation between all the equality players around very specific projects,” said the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission.

“It also helped raise awareness among Europeans of their rights to equal treatment and a life without discrimination.

“The French Presidency wishes to continue and strengthen this momentum.

“It has consequently placed equal opportunities and the fight against discrimination at the heart of the EU’s social agenda, themes which figure among the French Presidency’s most prominent social priorities.”

The Commission decided in June introduce a new directive on discrimination on the grounds of disability, age, religion and sexual orientation.

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.

The discrimination directive was presented to the European Parliament earlier this month 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, holders of the EU Presidency until December.

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

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

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

“For millions of people in the EU, discrimination and inequalities remain daily experiences,” said said Morten Kjaerum, Director of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).

“This is a disgrace EU governments must address head-on.

“Determined action must follow the summit in order to put ideals into realities.

“The European Union can take pride in its existing equality legislation.

“However, the best legislation is useless if people are not aware of it. How is it possible that only one third of our citizens say that they know their rights, should they be a victim of discrimination?

“I call on EU governments to fulfil their legal obligation to inform people about their rights and give them the means to realise them.

“At every airport you find posters with passengers’ rights. Why don’t we give the same visibility to the right to equality – in town halls, companies, schools or at the local post office? Equality is a right and not a charity.

“There are still gaps in the legal protection against discrimination. Currently, in many Member States, some groups are better protected by legislation than others,” said Mr Kjaerum.

“This is not right. People must have equal rights to equal treatment. The new non-discrimination package proposed by the European Commission would close this gap.

“It would ensure that all forms of discrimination are tackled with the same vigour of the law. I hope that this summit will bring EU governments closer to a consensus on this important new piece of EU legislation.”

The FRA’s recent study,  “Homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the EU Member States Part I – legal analysis”, highlighted the fact that not all discrimination grounds benefit from the same level of legal protection in the EU.

The report concluded that greater legislative protection and wider support within the EU is required for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans citizens.

It also said that the rights and advantages of married couples should be extended to same-sex partnerships, including those benefits for spouses and partners related to free movement and family reunification.