European institutions and the EU anti-discrimination policy

6. EU anti-discrimination law: history

The principle of non-discrimination of workers on grounds of nationality and gender had already been introduced by the Treaties of Rome in 1957, in order to favour freedom of movement, equal pay, and equal conditions. In 1976, the Defrenne v Sabena verdict by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) had confirmed the principle of non-discrimination even in absence of national legislation in that regard.1

If the early developments of equality legislation were functional to the objective of economic integration, new momentum has been given by political integration since 1992, with the transformation of the EEC into the European Union.

The Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 gave the EU new powers in terms of tackling discrimination (art. 13), and legislation significantly expanded over few years.

Non-discrimination was acknowledged as a fundamental right by the Treaty of Nice in 2000, with the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes a section on equality. In turn, the Charter became legally binding in the EU with the coming into effect of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, and has now the same legal effect as the Union treaties. 

1 Source: ENAR “Law and equality: an introduction, February 2009