Protecting and promoting equality as a fundamental value of the EU: 20th anniversary of the Race Equality Directive

Brussels, 29 June 2020  - Today, Equinet, the European Network of Equality Bodies, the European Commission, the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU and the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU are coming together to co-host an online conference, equality2020, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Race Equality Directive.

Equality is one of our key common values and, together with respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, is a founding value of the European Union. These values are common to Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

Equality as a core value of the European Union motivates a shared concern for human dignity and is an integral part of our understanding of fairness and justice. Equality enables the participation by all in economic, social and cultural life, gives a voice to all groups in decisions that impact them, and celebrates diversity. A European Union that values equality, and that gives life to this value, creates societies where all people and social groups flourish. European equal treatment legislation was created to reflect this core value by ensuring the basic principle of equal treatment, and by supporting and protecting people who face discrimination.

On this day, exactly 20 years ago, the Council of the EU adopted the ambitious Race Equality Directive (2000/43/EC), which was the first ‘new generation’ equal treatment instrument that extended legal protection against discrimination beyond the ground of sex. This Directive, paving the way for other legal instruments extending protection to new grounds and fields, has been a powerful expression of equality as a founding value of the European Union.

One of the key novelties of the Race Equality Directive was the way in which it revolutionised the equality infrastructure by requiring all Member States to designate national equality bodies to promote equal treatment. This was a ground-breaking development as it recognised that, while a strong legal framework is essential, equality can only be achieved through effective implementation of these laws in practice.

Over the past 20 years, equality bodies, not only in the EU but also in EU candidate countries, have proven to be essential actors for advancing equality in Europe, triggering positive change at societal, institutional and individual levels. As watchdogs for equality on the ground, they are independent and expert public bodies, which are easy to access by victims of discrimination. Equality bodies contribute to the implementation and further development of equality and non-discrimination law by advising policy makers to help formulate better equality policies and legislation. They work with duty bearers to support the implementation of good equality practices in all fields and contribute to building a robust body of evidence on equality through their research.

The EU can be proud of the establishment of equality bodies across all Member States as a good practice and a tangible embodiment of the founding value of equality. Equality bodies are champions of equality and defenders of the right to non-discrimination with great potential to help ensure that our societies benefit everybody, leaving no one behind. While all our countries have set up equality bodies and equality legislation has been adopted in certain fields, important challenges remain, and new ones arise. This underlines the importance of further strengthening both the legislative framework and the institutions working for equality.

The European Commission, recognising the various challenges to equality and the need to ensure the independence and effectiveness of national equality bodies, adopted a Recommendation on standards for equality bodies in June 2018. The Recommendation sets minimum standards concerning the mandate of equality bodies, their independence and their effectiveness, including accessibility, sufficient resources and appropriate powers. The Council of Europe also recognised the importance of having strong equality bodies in its Revised General Policy Recommendation No.2, which further contributes to setting standards for equality bodies across Europe.

These important instruments underline the key contribution of equality bodies and the challenges they face. To achieve truly equal and inclusive societies throughout Europe, it is vital to have independent and effective equality bodies with the powers and resources to ensure that equality and non-discrimination is realised in practice. Full implementation of both sets of recommendations by Member States is essential to making EU equality legislation a reality for all, to effectively protect against discrimination and to promote equality in our societies.

As the current public health crisis caused by COVID-19 and the related national emergency measures have shown, equality and non-discrimination are not a given. The crisis has disproportionately affected certain groups, often in an already disadvantaged socio-economic position and at heightened risk of discrimination. This unprecedented context has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in our societies and has shown that we need to increase our efforts to reach fairer and more equal societies by strengthening both equality legislation and equality bodies. 

Furthermore, the Black Lives Matter movement and the demand for racial justice inspired by the recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has resonated across the world, including throughout Europe. Against this backdrop of antiracist protests and the COVID-19 crisis, it is clear that now is the time to strengthen the fight against systemic racism and all forms of discrimination in Europe.

On 24 June, the EU College of Commissioners held an important structured debate on racism that highlighted the need to build a Europe that is more equal, humane and fair. This 20th Anniversary of the Race Equality Directive will trigger an increase of our efforts and further positive change in our societies through an action plan to tackle racism.

Our joint conference marking ‘20 years of Equality Bodies’ and celebrating the adoption of the Race Equality Directive, will highlight progress and achievements through equality legislation, discuss the current context and challenges, including the implications of COVID-19, and Europe’s future ambition for equality, through its legal and institutional infrastructure.

 

Signed:

Tena Šimonović Einwalter, Chair of Equinet Executive Board

Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, European Commission

Dražen Bošnjaković, Minister of Justice, Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union

 

 

Notes

  • All relevant information relating to this conference can be found online at www.equality2020.eu.
  • Equinet is the European Network of Equality Bodies, a membership organisation bringing together 49 equality bodies from across Europe, including all EU Member States. Equinet promotes equality in Europe by supporting equality bodies to be independent and effective catalysts for more equal societies. More: www.equineteurope.org
  • National equality bodies are public organisations assisting victims of discrimination, monitoring and reporting on discrimination issues, and promoting equality. They are legally required to do so in relation to one, some, or all of the grounds of discrimination covered by European Union (EU) law – gender, race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and disability. See website for further details.

 

For more information, please contact:

Sarah Cooke O’Dowd
Communication Officer, Equinet – European Network of Equality Bodies
s.cookeodowd@equineteurope.org
T: +32 (0) 2 212 3184

Tena Šimonović Einwalter
Chair of Equinet Executive Board
tena.simonovic.einwalter@ombudsman.hr