In February 2017, Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz (PPE) submitted a written question (E-001025-17) to the European Commission regarding ‘The performance of national equality bodies in promoting and strengthening equal treatment‘. The question reads as follows:
EU legislation obliges Member States to set up national equality bodies, which are then required to promote equal treatment and combat discrimination on the grounds covered by EC law, such as gender, race and ethnicity, and, on a voluntary basis, on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, religion or belief and disability. All of the Member States have successfully established national equality bodies, but there is great variety in their independence and competences and, consequently, their effectiveness in carrying out the principal tasks. Moreover, there are no specific guidelines for Member States on how these equality bodies should operate and there is limited oversight of their performance.
- How does the Commission monitor and assess the work of national equality bodies in terms of fulfilling their principal tasks, which mainly consist of raising awareness about anti-discrimination law and legal assistance for victims?
- How many and which Member States have decided to extend legal protection in their national law beyond the grounds required by EC law (gender, race and ethnicity) to the optional grounds of age, religion or belief, disability and sexual orientation?
- Does the Commission collect data on the legal representation of individuals in discrimination cases mediated by the national equality bodies?
Reply from the European Commission
In most Member States, the mandate of equality bodies extends to all the grounds of discrimination covered by EU equality legislation. This goes beyond the requirement of the directives(1), which only concerns race, ethnic origin and sex. As the Commission set out in its joint report on the application of Directives 2000/43/EC and 2000/78/EC(2) in 2014, this was the case in 22 Member States(3), while in 15 Member States grounds going beyond those protected by EU Directives were covered as well.
In January 2017, the European Network of Equality Bodies (Equinet) published a factsheet which provides a detailed overview of the grounds covered by Equinet member equality bodies(4).
The Commission has been monitoring and will continue to scrutinise closely Member States’ compliance with the requirements of the directives on this aspect. It ensures that each equality body has the required mandate and powers, but also that it effectively performs all the tasks set out in EU legislation.
In this respect, the Commission relies on information provided by Member States and by diverse stakeholders, such as the Equinet and the European Network of Legal Experts in Gender Equality and non-Discrimination. This has already led to the opening of formal infringement proceedings against Finland, Belgium and Slovenia, which resulted in changes in the national legislation and the concerned equality bodies.
(1) Directives 2000/43 EC, 2006/54/EC and 2004/113/EC.
(3) i.e. all Member States apart from Denmark, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain and Finland at the date of the report.