The EOC's View
28. The EOC told us
that the Institute could "make a real difference to the lives
of women across Europe, breaking through the resistance to and
slow pace of change and supporting the work of the European Commission
in ensuring proper and adequate implementation of Directives".
It could add significant value to gender equality activities in
the EU because of the continuing need to take specific actions
to tackle discrimination on the basis of sex and to promote gender
mainstreaming. A separate Gender Institute would also ensure that
gender equality would remain high on the European political agenda
and that the relevant up-to-date information was available.
29. On the other hand, the EOC saw advantages
in integrated holistic approaches to tackling discrimination.
Although there were important differences between equality issues,
it would be a mistake to underestimate the similarities in ways
in which equality and discrimination could be tackled. The EOC
therefore supported the concept of one integrated European body
covering all equality strands.
30. The EOC had welcomed the transformation of
the existing European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia
into a new Fundamental Rights Agency but was concerned that this
coincided with parallel plans to set up the Gender Institute.
In the EOC's experience, it was vital to disassociate gender from
the rest of the equality strands. The EOC would prefer one integrated
European body covering all equality strands, including gender,
to two separate bodies, one covering gender and one covering all
other aspects of equality. It suggested that the Council might
not have given sufficient thought to the consequences of setting
up two similar European bodies at the same time.
31. As an alternative, European institutions
such as Eurostat and the European Foundation for the Improvement
of Living and Working Conditions could enhance the research and
collection of comparable data on gender equality and sex discrimination
if provided with extra funding.
32. We asked the EOC to expand on the virtues
of bringing all equality and discrimination issues together, rather
than having a separate gender institute. We were told that, although
the EOC would prefer an integrated body, "the political situation
at the moment" was such that it did not look as though it
would be possible to have one integrated body. The European Parliament
and the Council had developed separate proposals for the Fundamental
Rights Agency and the Gender Institute. If that was unavoidable,
the two institutes should work closely together avoiding duplication
and developing common positions (Q 6).
33. Asked about views of sister bodies in Europe,
the EOC was not sure but thought that those bodies which were
already working in an integrated way saw the benefits of working
together. On the other hand, some perhaps felt that gender might
be losing out. That was why the European Women's Lobby, for example,
advocated a clear, visible gender-specific approach. The EOC advocated
gender-specific actions where necessary but also a more integrated
approach. Without an integrated approach some groups, such as
black and ethnic minority women or disabled women, could lose
out. Support for a twin-track approach, combining gender-specific
actions with a more integrated, more mainstream approach, was
gaining ground at a European level (QQ 11-12).
34. The EOC subsequently reported that so far
11 EU Member States (and
Northern Ireland) had already either integrated equality bodies
or very strong coordination.
The UK and four other Member States
were considering having integrated bodies. The remaining Member
States had "single ground" (separate) bodies.
35. On the tasks that needed to be done, the
EOC told us that the priority should be to collect, analyse and
disseminate comparable data while ensuring more coordination and
cooperation on the different fields of discrimination in Europe
(Q 1). At the moment, it was difficult to find comparable European
data and exchange good practice. Information was scattered across
Europe and it was very difficult for national Governments, the
European Commission or organisations like the EOC to collect up-to-date
data, learn from other experiences and see trends across Europe
36. Although the EOC thought that the data produced
by Eurostat was very valuable, it was sometimes out-of-date and
it was not always easy for researchers to access the different
gender elements in the relevant data. Eurostat did not always
analyse the data it collected, or give it critical thinking, from
a gender perspective (QQ 4-5).
37. As the EOC saw it, the Institute would also
organise conferences and set up networks of experts. It could
help to bring together all the equality bodies across Europe once
or twice a year to exchange information about important issues
such as work/life balance, pensions or demographic change. Ideally,
one centre of expertise should bring together all the relevant
information and expertise that was scattered across Europe and
provide systematic information and guidelines to equality bodies,
governments and the European Commission (Q 7).
38. We asked why other European institutions
could not carry out these tasks, perhaps with additional resources
and some changes in focus. The EOC felt that the main reason for
deciding to set up a separate gender institute was probably visibility.
There was a feeling that gender had slipped from the agenda and
that more emphasis should be given to gender equality in other
policy discussions being carried out in Europe. Although the work
could probably be done by other organisations, visibility was
one of the reasons why they should not do so (Q 18).
39. We asked the Government to comment on the
EOC's views. The Minister told us that she had a great deal of
sympathy with the suggestion that the Gender Institute Proposal
should be put on hold until more progress was made in considering
the European Fundamental Rights Agency Proposal. She had been
very keen to look at the Fundamental Rights Agency option at the
beginning. But EU competence was not the same across all the strands
of equality issues. Having a focus on gender equality would help
Member States to develop greater equality across the EU (Q 33).
40. The Minister admitted that it was Government
policy to develop a single Commission in the UK for all equality
and human rights issues. Legislation to that effect was being
considered by Parliament. But having a separate Institute did
not mean it could not work with other areas and look at the interplay
between issues of discrimination that might, for example, affect
both women and perhaps a particular ethnic minority (Q 33).
41. She added that she was insisting that the
Institute should be mandated to work very closely with other relevant
agencies. That was already reflected in the Commission's draft
Proposal, which made clear that the Institute should ensure appropriate
coordination with all relevant agencies in order to avoid any
duplication and guarantee the best possible use of resources.
A member of the Fundamental Rights Agency should be invited to
the Management Board meetings of the Institute when both bodies
were set up. The Government would want to ensure two-way cooperation
between the two bodies (Q 33).
42. In moving to a Commission of Equality in
Human Rights in this country, the Minister said she was having
to ensure that focus on the separate activities of the Equal Opportunities
Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and Disability
Rights Commission was not lost. She saw parallels with the Gender
Institute Proposal. Having a separate Gender Institute would ensure
that focus on gender equality issues would not be lost in the
work of the Fundamental Rights Agency. The Institute would give
real focus to gender equality and raise its profile, giving a
very important signal that gender should be "mainstreamed"
into all EU policies (Q 34).
43. The Minister reassured us that the Institute
was not intended to be a policy-making body: it would bring together
information about different approaches to gender issues which
could very usefully be shared across Europe. This was particularly
important in dealing with the consequences of EU enlargement.
Sharing good practice and looking at the way in which different
societies approached gender issues could be very important. Although
the Institute would not make policy, it would enable those who
did to have greater access to how work had been done and funds
deployed in trying to achieve gender equality (QQ 35-36).
44. On balance, we accept that there may be a
need to collate and interpret existing data, commission new studies
and promote exchanges of information and good practice about gender
issues in the EU. We accept that such activity may sometimes require
a specifically European focus which UN and other international
bodies could not be expected to give. But we are still not convinced
that it is necessary to set up a separate European Institute to
do such work or that the Commission could not be expected to find
other, and possibly more cost-effective, ways of carrying out
45. On the other hand, we do see potential advantage
in incorporating the work which the Institute is supposed to do
in the proposed European Fundamental Rights Agency. As we see
it, this would be consistent with policy being adopted by the
Government to consolidate the work of the EOC with that of the
Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission
in a new single Commission of Equality and Human Rights. In principle,
we believe that this would give greater coherence and balance
in dealing with these issues and we would like more consideration
to be given to the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach
before final decisions are taken on the Gender Institute Proposal.
46. We conclude that the case for a separate
European Institute for Gender Equality has not been demonstrated
and we recommend that further consideration should be given to
the alternative of incorporating the gender equality work envisaged
for the Institute in the activities of the proposed European Fundamental
Rights Agency on which a Report will shortly be made.
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