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5. The dialectics of the decision-making process

5.1. The parliamentary question for oral answer (transcription)

Example of parliamentary question to Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, from Claude Moraes, British MEP of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, on the horizontal directive against discrimination.

Answering the question, the Commissioner mentions issues emerging from the debate on the approval of the directive, such as the alleged breach of the principle of subsidiarity or the financial burden of its introduction. The issue of disparity in protection against discrimination also comes up in the exchange, and so does the EP's control role over the reception of the directives by Member States.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008 - StrasbourgOJ Edition

Subject: Anti-discrimination horizontal directive

  President. − Question No 46 by Claude Moraes (H-0427/08)

Subject: Anti-discrimination horizontal directive

The European Commission announced that this spring would see the launch of the new horizontal directive prohibiting discrimination.

What is the latest development regarding the scope of the directive? Will there be a far-reaching anti-discrimination directive including ALL of the remaining grounds of Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty – namely age, disability, religion or belief, and sexual orientation, as supported by a majority in the European Parliament?

If not, could the European Commission give its reasons, and outline its detailed plan of action for the coming months?


  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. − (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, last week the Commission adopted a proposal for a directive which provides for protection from discrimination on grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief beyond the workplace. Discrimination on these grounds in employment and occupation is already covered by Directive 2000/78/EC. In this way we have fulfilled the commitment that we made, in front of you, at the beginning of our term of office. We have answered your repeated calls for such a proposal, last expressed during the part-session in May. This proposal for a directive is based on principles that Member States have already adopted in existing directives. For example, it contains provisions ensuring protection for victims of discrimination and dealing with harassment and victimisation, as well as provisions concerning the establishment of equality authorities. As I said earlier, the proposal for a directive provides for protection from discrimination on four basic discrimination grounds, but giving equal importance to all four of them does not mean that provisions concerning all these types of discrimination are equal.

The proposal for a directive therefore takes into account the specifics of each ground of discrimination so that the directive is as effective as possible. Specifically, it makes it possible, depending on the context, to take into account the age, and to consider the issue of age and disability in the insurance and banking sector, if this is adequate and reasonable, and I stress the words adequate and reasonable. This may never mean wilful exclusion of older or disabled persons from these sectors. In cases of disability, the principle of equal treatment is a positive commitment providing for general accessibility for disabled persons and carrying out appropriate adjustments in individual cases. Such measures do not represent a disproportionate burden. The proposal for a directive clearly states that account shall be taken of the size, nature and resources of the organisation, the estimated cost, the life cycle of goods and services, and the possible benefits of access for persons with disabilities. The proposal is an important step towards closing a huge loophole in non-discriminatory legislation.

Of course we realise that protection from discrimination on grounds of gender outside the workplace is not yet as strong as protection from discrimination on grounds of race. This is because Directive 2004/113/EC does not cover the area of education, as can be seen from the explanatory statement of this proposal. We think that it would be too premature to propose changes to said Directive, since the period for its implementation ended only recently. However, when we are preparing the implementation report in 2010, we can propose changes to the Directive if necessary. 


  Claude Moraes (PSE). Commissioner, this is an example of a question tabled some weeks ago which, very happily, received its positive answer on 1 July with your announcement. I think you should take personal credit for championing this within the Commission and for listening to the vote of the European Parliament.

Let me just ask you and the Commission to maintain your vigilance so that derogations and exemptions to the principle of equal treatment are not sought on just any grounds: they must be sought on necessary grounds and on genuine principles of subsidiarity, because we have seen transpositions of the Employment Directive and Race Equality Directive which were not complete and we must ensure that this good package becomes law in the Member States.


  Vladimír Špidla. − (CS) It is obvious that such a directive which is far-reaching and which protects the fundamental values of the European Union is often viewed differently and is often exposed, for various reasons, to pressure for its effectiveness to be limited. Being fully aware of this, the Commission prepared this complex proposal which we are of course ready to defend in further stages against any unjustified challenges.


  Syed Kamall (PPE-DE). - (EN) Could I ask the Commissioner to comment on British newspaper reports? Apparently, as reported in the press, anti-discrimination legislation does not currently apply to workers over the age of retirement, and people of retirement age or older are being legally sacked. Does the Commissioner have plans to tackle the British Government’s discrimination against older workers?


  Vladimír Špidla. − (CS) In general, the Directive protecting people who belong to the labour force also protects them from discrimination on grounds of age. I cannot make specific comments on the British newspaper report since it is, as always, qualified by the specific circumstances of the particular case. I can only say, with confidence, that in this regard there are no exceptions in this Directive, according to which protection no longer applies above a certain age.