Select Committee on European Union Ninth Report


16 May 2000

By the Select Committee appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.



13536/99Communication from the Commission on Certain Community Measures to Combat Discrimination
13537/99Proposal for a Council Decision Establishing a Community Action Programme to Combat Discrimination (2001-2006)
13540/99Proposal for a Council Directive Establishing a General Framework for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation
COM(99)566 final Proposal for a Council Directive Implementing the Principle of Equal Treatment between Persons Irrespective of Racial or Ethnic Origin


1. This Report examines four proposals-two Directives, an Action Programme and a Communication-which represent the first fruits of Article 13 of the EC Treaty, as amended by the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty. This Article, which came into effect in May 1999, states that,

    Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Article 13 gave the Community for the first time a specific legal basis for action to combat discrimination.

2. After wide consultation, the Commission presented the proposals on 25 November 1999. The Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Anna Diamantopoulou, heralded them as "a milestone in the construction of a Social Europe". She spoke of the blight of discrimination, and said, "we want to see a common level of protection against discrimination right across the European Union". The proposals gave "a strong signal about the ambition of the Community to promote a more equal society".[1] Early reports suggested that the proposals were unlikely to be agreed quickly.[2] However, events in Austria seem to have created a sense of urgency within the Council[3], and the package was discussed ahead of schedule at the Social Affairs Council on 13 March 2000. The Portuguese Presidency has pressed for rapid progress, and it appears that agreement on the Action Programme will be reached by June.

3. These proposals, if adopted in their present form, would have an extensive impact on the United Kingdom's anti-discrimination legislation, which at present covers only race, sex and disability (and, in Northern Ireland, religion). There will be an equal or greater impact on many other Member States. Sub-Committee F (Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs) of the European Union Committee has therefore conducted a wide-ranging inquiry into the proposals, focusing on the two draft Directives, though the proposed Action Programme was also touched on. The Committee's call for evidence raised broad policy issues. Are the proposals consistent with subsidiarity and proportionality? Are the "minimum common standards" of protection established by the proposed Directives the most appropriate ones? Is the scope of the proposed Directives satisfactory? Do the Directives contain significant omissions? What will be the impact on other Member States and on enlargement? In the course of the inquiry many more detailed issues, to do with the drafting of the Directives, were raised by witnesses and by the Committee; these issues figure prominently in the Summary of Evidence and in the Committee's conclusions and recommendations.

4. The Members of Sub-Committee F who took part in the inquiry are listed in Appendix 1. The specialist advisor for the inquiry was Professor Evelyn Ellis, of Birmingham University, and the Members would like to record their gratitude for the skill with which she guided them through the complexities of this inquiry.

1   Commission press release, 25 November 1999. Back

2   See European Voice, 13-19 January 2000. Back

3   See "Austria fears spark talks on discrimination", European Voice, 9-15 March 2000. Back

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