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Current Affairs

MEPs demand comprehensive discrimination legislation

Tony Grew May 21, 2008

The European Parliament yesterday voted to adopt a report by a West Midlands MEP calling for protection for gay and lesbian people from discrimination.

Lib Dem MEP Liz Lynne’s report calls on the European Commission to adhere to its commitment to a “comprehensive directive” to combat any discrimination in access to goods and services on grounds of sex, race, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Her report was adopted by the European Parliament yesterday.

362 MEPs voted in favour, 262 against and 56 abstained.

“We must move away from the piecemeal approach, there can be no hierarchy of discrimination,” Ms Lynne said during the debate.

“A new directive must cover discrimination to access and services on all grounds that have not been covered as yet under Article 13 legislation: disability, age, religion or belief and sexual orientation. Race and Gender are already covered, as is employment.

“The Commission made the commitment to a comprehensive directive in its work programme for 2008.

“There appears to be some backtracking on this and they might only bring forward legislation on disability and nothing else, this is not acceptable. Every EU citizen must be treated equally.”

The Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights welcomed the adoption of the Lynne Report.

“This is a clear signal that the Parliament is sending out, which it called for, back in 2004,” said Michael Cashman MEP, the President of the Intergroup.

“Protection of Human Rights and non-discrimination are political priorities.

“This strengthens the message I personally gave to President Barroso today, that he must deliver on his promise for a Horizontal Directive.

“We must end this hierarchy of discrimination which currently exists in EU legislation.”

MEPs want a new directive to prohibit all forms of discrimination.

This includes direct and indirect discrimination in all areas that fall under EU competence 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 which are available to the public.

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 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 probably 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.

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