>On the 2nd July 2008, 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. This new directive would ensure equal treatment in the areas of social protection, including social security and health care, education and access to and supply of goods and services which are commercially available to the public, including housing. Eurobarometer surveys show that a large majority of Europeans support such legislation: 77% back measures to protect people from discrimination in education and 68% in access to goods and services.
"The right to equal treatment is fundamental, but millions of people in the EU continue to face discrimination in their everyday lives. At present, there is an inequality in Community legislation itself because people are protected from discrimination outside the workplace only on grounds of gender and race or ethnic origin. We must ensure equal treatment for all grounds," said Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. "The measures we propose are proportionate and reasonable; they give legal certainty to businesses and to users of goods and services while respecting the specific requirements of various sectors as well as national traditions."
The law will prohibit direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment and victimisation. For people with disabilities, non-discrimination will involve general accessibility as well as the principle of "reasonable accommodation" which is already used in existing European legislation. It will, however, avoid imposing a disproportionate burden on service providers by taking account of the size and resources of the organisation, its nature, the estimated cost, the life cycle of the goods and services and the possible benefits of increased access for persons with disabilities. The directive will only apply to private persons in so far as they are performing their commercial activities or professional. Also, Member States will remain free to maintain measures ensuring the secular nature of the State or concerning the status and activities of religious organisations. The directive will have no effect on generally accepted practices such as discounts for senior citizens (e.g. bus fares and entrance to museums) or age restrictions on access to certain goods (e.g. alcohol for young people) on grounds of public health. To ensure effectiveness of the proposed measures, national equality bodies will give advice to victims of discrimination while civil society organisations will also have the possibility to help victims in judicial and administrative procedures.
>The Communication on 'Non-discrimination and equal opportunities: A renewed commitment' sets out key areas in which further progress at EU and national level is needed, such as the fight against multiple discrimination, further raising of awareness, non-discrimination mainstreaming, positive action and data collection. It also announces the setting up of a new governmental expert group to strengthen the dialogue between Member States on non-discrimination policies. Finally, the Communication acknowledges that the situation of the Roma is characterised by persisting individual and institutional discrimination and far-reaching social exclusion.
>On the 2nd of July, 2008, The European Commission adopted a legislative proposal to improve the role of European Works Councils in informing and consulting employees. European Works Councils (EWCs) currently operate in 820 major companies across the EU, covering some 14.5 million employees.
Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities said: "We need to make sure European Works Councils can play their full role in managing the process of globalisation in a balanced way and help citizens benefit from the opportunities it offers. This is one of our priorities in the context of the renewed Social Agenda."
The proposal aims to add value to European Works Councils while making employees’ transnational information and consultation rights more effective. The proposal also aims at increasing the take-up of European Works Councils while ensuring legal certainty during their set-up and the execution of their tasks.
Proposed amendments yet to be examined are aimed at:
- Further specifying the concepts of information and consultation;
- Defining the competences of European Works Councils and linking the national and European levels of information and consultation;
- Adapting the fall-back rules, which are used as benchmarks in defining negotiated and adapted rules at company level;
- Providing training for employee representatives, introducing a duty for them to report back to the workers and recognising the role of trade unions;
- Adapting European Works Councils in the event of significant change in the structure of companies.
>The Commission also issued a new report on transnational company agreements. These are texts concluded between management and workers' representatives in companies located in several countries for which no legal framework currently exists.
The report finds that the number of these initiatives is rapidly increasing: around 150 such texts have been concluded in 90 companies covering around 7.5 million employees since 2000, on issues ranging from managing restructuring to equal opportunities, fundamental rights, training and health and safety standards.
While the Commission believes that these agreements can help anticipate and manage change in a socially responsible way, questions have been raised about their transparency, legal nature, involvement of stakeholders and dispute resolution mechanisms. The report therefore is intended as an input for an open debate on the issue with all relevant stakeholders, namely by setting up an expert group and providing supporting measures.
>Meanwhile, the Commission on the 2nd of July also issued a report on a major agreement by European employers' and workers' representatives on telework – or distance working.
The agreement, signed in 2002, put in place a series of rules and guarantees both for teleworkers and employers. Six years later, the agreement has been a success: social partners in most European countries have developed rules and tools to use this new form of work to the advantage of both workers and employers.
The agreement has a real added value, as only two Member States already had a comprehensive set of rules on telework prior to the EU agreement. The key provisions of the agreement have now been implemented in 19 Member States and partially in a further two. Work will continue in the remaining six, most of which have relatively recent structures for social dialogue.
Around 8% of the European workforce reported in 2005 that they were teleworking from home for at least a quarter of their working time, while 2% do it full-time.
>The Commission's new social proposals seek to boost access, opportunities and social justice.
The new "social agenda" also proposes measures to:
make medical care outside patient’s home country easier to access
strengthen the role of European works councils representing workers in large companies that operate in more than one EU country
incorporate international maritime working standards into European law.
EU economic growth has been brisk in recent years and unemployment is down, but almost one in six Europeans are living below or close to the poverty line, including around 8% of working people. And one in seven has suffered discrimination.
Europe’s social dimension has never been more relevant, says Commission president, José Manuel Barroso. “It is inseparable from the EU’s strategy to stimulate growth and provide better jobs for Europeans.”
The Commission advocates more cooperation between countries and a larger coordinating role for the EU. Social spending is relatively high in EU countries – 26% GDP, against 15% in the US and 17% in Japan. But national systems are often incompatible – they don’t work efficiently across borders and create barriers to jobs, education, housing and healthcare for certain groups.
The package coincides with a new poll showing that 49% of Europeans think life in 20 years will be worse than today, while 38% believe it will improve. A large majority expect social inequality to increase, and think it will be harder to find affordable housing and healthcare and to get a decent job, even with a good education. Most also think Europeans will earn less than today because of competition from fast-growing economies like China and India.
Alongside proposals, the package offers data and analysis on:
Europe’s Roma minority
the education of migrant children
challenges facing social services in Europe
the EU fund to support the people worst affected by globalisation
public wellbeing in the information society
European cooperation on schools.
>Millions of Europeans of Roma origin are subject to persistent discrimination – both at individual and institutional level – and far-reaching social exclusion, says a new European Commission report released on 2 July 2008. But the tools exist to improve the situation if the EU, Member States and civil society join forces to effectively coordinate their efforts. The report comes as a response to the request by EU leaders in December 2007 to examine the policies and instruments available at EU level to improve Roma inclusion.
"Roma are one of the largest ethnic minorities in the EU, but too often they are Europe's forgotten citizens," said Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimír Špidla. "They face persistent discrimination and far-reaching social exclusion. The EU and Member States have a joint responsibility to end this situation. We have the tools to do the job – now we need to use them more effectively."
77% of Europeans are of the opinion that being Roma is a disadvantage in society, on a par with being disabled (79%).
The report concludes that there is a powerful framework of legislative, financial and policy coordination tools available and that these are increasingly used, but that there is still an implementation gap in the Member States. The EU's Structural Funds – including the European Social Fund (ESF) – and pre-accession instruments are crucial to overcoming exclusion. For example, in 2000-2006, EUR 275 million of ESF funding was devoted to projects specifically targeted at Roma, while a further EUR 1 billion was spent on vulnerable groups including Roma. The key to success is strong and effective coordination and the full involvement of civil society in the design, implementation and monitoring of EU action.
The EU has clear powers in the field of non-discrimination which it has used to legislate (equal treatment irrespective of race and ethnic origin) and to monitor the correct transposition of EU law. However, the responsibility for most central areas for Roma inclusion lies primarily with Member States (e.g. education, employment, social inclusion). In these fields the EU can only coordinate Member States' policies, and support their implementation inter alia through the Structural Funds.
The report examines the instruments – legislation, cohesion policy and non-discrimination actions (information, awareness-raising, cooperation with civil society) – and the most important policy areas for Roma inclusion – employment, social inclusion, education, public health, enlargement and gender equality. The document represents a stock-taking of existing instruments and policies, but it also identifies a number of lessons learned which allow the given framework to be used more effectively.
It complements the Commission's new policy approach to non-discrimination as a follow-up to the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, set out in a Communication adopted on 2 July 2008 (see IP/08/1071). Both documents will be discussed at a European Roma Summit to take place in Brussels on 16 September 2008.