Discrimination in Europe

Description of Discrimination

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes discrimination in the following terms: [1] Discrimination among EU citizens on grounds of nationality or sex is generally barred under Community law, although non-EU migrant workers enjoy considerably less protection. The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam greatly enlarged the range of prohibited activities, to include discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. It laid particular emphasis on the elimination of sexual discrimination, although it somewhat undermined the principle of equal treatment by authorising member states to pursue positive discrimination to ease the career path for the ‘under-represented sex’ (Eurospeak for women). In theory, the rights and prohibitions contained in the EU’s treaties apply only to activities falling within the competence of the Community. In reality, the Community’s competence is so broad and the principles are so entrenched in the Treaties that it is hard to picture an area that would not be encompassed by the anti-discriminationprovisions.

Discrimination on nationality grounds

An exception to the general prohibition is that public service employment may be reserved for nationals: this includes civil servants, the armed forces and the police.

Sexual discrimination

Since the mid-1970s the Commission has been producing Directives aimed at giving women equal rights in the workplace – of occupation, conditions, promotion and social security. More recently the focus has been on extending the interpretation of equal pay for equal work, first to include equality of pension entitlement and then to define equal work as work of ‘equivalent value’ – an echo of the ancient concept of the ‘just wage’.

In addition, the Commission regularly proposes action programmes for voluntary implementation by the member states. These programmes range from practical proposals to improve training and career guidance, to politically fashionable objectives such as the promotion of ‘gender awareness’ and the removal of stereotypes from educational books. Between these extremes lie suggestions of a social market nature, such as guaranteed maternity leave and the protection of pregnant women from loss of promotion. Ironically, the Commission itself, which claims exaggerated credit for the rising status of women within the EU, appointed no female commissioners until 1989.

Other forms of discrimination

The Treaty of Amsterdam is too recent to permit of experience in the other areas of discrimination that it identifies, some of which are ill-defined and so open to contentious interpretation. An interesting parallel development, also created by the Treaty of Amsterdam, was the granting of authority to the Community to intervene to protect ‘fundamental human rights’ within the Eu (see more in this European encyclopedia). It was on this principle that Austria was boycotted diplomatically by the other member states when its allegedly xenophobic Freedom Party entered government, although the Commission itself refrained from action on the grounds that no specific violations had occurred. These events led some libertarians to fear that Community law was in danger of becoming politicised in the name of prohibiting discrimination.

Discrimination (in European Private Law)

In this context, this may be a concept of the term: “Discrimination” means any conduct whereby, or situation where, on grounds such as sex or ethnic or racial origin, (a) one person is treated less favourably than another person is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation; or (b) an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would place one group of persons at a particular disadvantage when compared to a different group of persons.

Discrimination and the European Union


See Also

  • Women’s rights


See Also

  • Private Law


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

See Also

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