Select Committee on European Union Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Equal Opportunities Commission

  1.  The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the inquiry into the social aspects of the Convention on the Future of Europe. We regard the proposals from Working Group XI of the Convention, dated 30 January, as having the potential to make a significant contribution to the achievement of equal opportunities between women and men. Given the remit of the EOC, our specific comments are confined to issues that directly affect gender equality.

  2.  There are two key principles that underpin the EOC's policy position in relation to a new constitutional Treaty for the European Union:

    —  The acquis communautaire in respect of gender should be safeguarded.

    —  The EU's commitment to gender equality should be explicitly strengthened and there should be specific requirements in respect of action to promote equality.


The inclusion in the Treaty of a number of additional social values and objectives

  3.  We warmly welcome the proposal that equality, in particular equality between women and men, should be included among the values of the Treaty. We similarly welcome the proposed inclusion of equality between men and women among the social objectives of the Union. Despite the fact that considerable progress has been made towards this objective, much remains to be done to foster further achievement. We therefore see it as essential that equality between women and men should be both a value and an objective of the Union.

  4.  However, we do not think it is sufficient for the Union to promote equality between women and men, important though this is. The Union must continue and strengthen its efforts to ensure the elimination of sex discrimination. We would therefore strongly advocate that, in the horizontal clause on social values articulated in paragraph 20 of the report from Social Europe Working Group, "sex and marital status" should be added to the list of grounds for discrimination. To exclude sex and marital status from this clause would give gender less protection than the other areas because "promotion" does not necessarily include the elimination of gender discrimination. In this context, we would also wish to see an extension of the proposals contained in paragraph 22 of the report concerning Article Three of the future Constitutional Treaty (where these relate to non-discrimination) to include a similar reference to "sex and marital status". An additional concern here is that the words in paragraph 20 are different from those in paragraph 22—where "elimination" is not used but rather "non-discrimination on the basis of". "Elimination" is stronger and we therefore see value in this word being included in Article Three of the future Constitutional Treaty.

  5.  Enshrining the proposals outlined above in the new Constitutional Treaty would accord with the significant status already given to equality of the sexes in the existing Treaty of European Union (the Treaty of Amsterdam) by virtue of the aspirational provisions contained in Articles Two and Three. Article Two provides that "The Community shall . . . promote . . . equality between men and women". Article Three adds that "In all the activities referred to in this Article, the Community shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality between men and women."

  6.  In the context of positively promoting gender equality, we should like to see the new Treaty incorporating a strong and high-level commitment to mainstream gender in the activities of the Community institutions and also through an enforceable requirement on Member States and their institutions to promote gender equality. Such a duty should be broad in its scope, incorporating employment, service delivery and all aspects of policy and practice. It should also be enforceable through the judicial processes of Member States and open to scrutiny and democratic accountability through an independent body. We firmly believe that this approach should represent the future of equality policy development for the Union.

  7.  The recognition of equality of women and men as a fundamental principle of the European Treaty and one of the objectives and tasks of the European Community. It gives a signal to the wider world that the EU is serious in its commitment to equality, and serves as an example for third countries and other international organisations. It also adds weight to the arguments of those who champion equality and responds to the expectations of individual women and men in contemporary society.

Specific Treaty provision for the "open method of co-ordination"

  8.  We would also support the inclusion of the open method of co-ordination in the Treaty, in such a manner as to clarify the procedures and respective roles of those involved, provided that this cannot be used to undermine existing Union competence in relation to gender equality. The open co-ordination method can play a positive role in relation to both gender equality mainstreaming and specific measures to promote equality. It can provide a framework for assessing progress around common objectives and targets and, where appropriate, can provide a basis for comparison across the Member States, enabling Council to give country-specific recommendations to Member States, including on issues that concern gender equality.

  9.  We should also like to see formal recognition in the Treaty that—in line with the approach adopted in the European Employment Strategy—there should be gender mainstreaming and specific measures, especially where the latter are needed to make up for the effects of past discrimination, in any new areas where the open method of co-ordination may be used in future.

Improved coherence between economic and social processes

  10.  We believe that improved coherence between economic and social processes has a major contribution to make in achieving the strategic goal that the Union set itself for the next decade at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth and more and better jobs and greater social inclusion. Investing in people, irrespective of their sex, and safeguarding women's future ability to contribute to the labour market, are prerequisites for the achievement of this goal. Sustainable economic growth will not become a reality if economic processes are blind to social perspectives. Gender impact assessment of economic policies therefore has an important role to play in this context.

  11.  Furthermore, improved coherence between economic and social processes should increase still further the relevance of the Union to people's lives and raise awareness of the positive benefits that being a member of the Union brings to those living in the UK.


  12.  We are aware of the important role played by the social partners in the field of social and gender equality policy, as evidenced by the agreements on parental leave and part-time work. It therefore seems a positive and logical development that the role of the social partners be recognised explicitly in the Constitutional Treaty. We strongly support the proposal that Civil Society organisations should also be given an explicit role in the Constitutional Treaty, especially in combating social exclusion, without prejudice to the existing special position of social partners in the social dialogue process. Our view is that this would enable increased numbers of women to play an even more significant role in the future development of the Union and would therefore contribute to making activities more transparent, and bring the Union closer to its people.

Annex A

  The Equal Opportunities Commission was established under the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. We were set up as an independent statutory body to:

    —  Work towards the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex or marriage;

    —  Promote equality of opportunity for women and men;

    —  Keep under review the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act; and

    —  Provide legal advice and assistance to individuals experiencing sex discrimination.

  We are currently campaigning to:

    —  Close the income gap between women and men, focusing on equal pay and pensions;

    —  Tackle discrimination by increasing awareness of responsibilities and rights;

    —  Enable caring responsibilities to be shared between women and men;

    —  Reduce stereotyping in education, work and leisure choices;

    —  Ensure that public services meet the differing needs of men and women;

    —  Ensure women are fully represented in decision-making and leadership roles; and

    —  Realise our vision for equality through changes to structures and legislation.

Janet Hemsley

Public Policy Manager

27 February 2003

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