On Tuesday, the committees on Women’s Rights and Employment adopted their position on new rules to give national equality bodies more powers, resources and independence.
MEPs want national equality bodies – public institutions that protect, and provide assistance to those who experience discrimination – to be fully independent from external influence in performing their tasks, deciding on their objectives and actions, and in particular as regards their legal structure, accountability, budget, staffing, communication and organisation. Parliament’s draft position on the proposed law introducing new standards for equality bodies was adopted by the committees on Women’s Rights and Employment with 48 in favour, 8 against and 7 abstentions.
Sufficient resources needed to work effectively
A lack of adequate and stable human, material, technical and financial resources are, MEPs say, hampering the ability of equality bodies to work effectively. Therefore, member states should ensure that these bodies receive adequate funding, can hire the necessary amount of qualified staff, and have appropriate premises and infrastructure to carry out their tasks effectively. Equality bodies should also be able to manage their finances independently.
Support to those who have experienced discrimination
Under Parliament’s draft position, member states would have to ensure that equality bodies are able to provide assistance to people who have experienced discrimination free of charge. Equality bodies would have the powers to investigate, following a complaint or on their own initiative, a possible breach of equal treatment. People who have experienced discrimination would be offered alternative means to resolve their dispute, such as mediation. To be able to address structural discrimination, MEPs also want member states to ensure that an equality body can start court proceedings itself.
Lead MEP for the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, Finland) said: “The EU is in need of effective anti-discrimination legislation. But good legislation is not enough on its own – we need effective tools too. This is where the Equality Bodies Directive comes in; it defines and harmonises how our national equality bodies can defend and support people who have experienced discrimination. Parliament’s strong position ensures that equality bodies can genuinely assist and defend European citizens against discrimination, on an equal footing in every member state.”
Lead MEP for the Employment and Social Affairs Committee Marc Angel (S&D, Luxembourg) said: “Equality bodies are crucial in fighting discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. That is why we must support them by ensuring their autonomy in order to preserve their nature as independent bodies, but also by guaranteeing their right to act in court to strengthen their role. I am glad the European Parliament has been able to reach such a strong mandate to start negotiations with the Council without further delay.”
Once the draft position has been endorsed by the full house, negotiations with the Council on the final form of the law can begin.
In December 2022, the European Commission presented two proposals on standards for equality bodies across member states, to ensure EU anti-discrimination rules are applied and enforced more effectively.