Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Clerk of Sub-Committee G to Equal Opportunities Commission dated 29 July 2005


  My Sub-Committee is currently examining a proposal by the European Commission to set up a European Institute for Gender Equality.

  As part of that consideration, my Sub-Committee would welcome any views which the Equal Opportunities Commission may have on the merits of this proposal and especially in response to the following questions:

    —  are the purpose and proposed tasks of the Institute clear, relevant and well thought-out?

    —  would the Institute be likely to add significant value to gender equality activities in the EU, and, if so, which ones?

    —  alternatively, could the work which it is proposed to do be done equally well by existing national or international bodies?

    —  does the Equal Opportunities Commission have any views on the proposed structure, administrative and financial arrangements for the Institute?


    —  was your organisation consulted about the proposal by the European Commission?

  The Sub-Committee may decide to use any reply you may give as written evidence. If so, it would become the property of the Sub-Committee and might be printed, circulated or made available to the public on the Parliamentary website or through the Parliamentary Record Office.

  I do hope you would be prepared to assist the Sub-Committee in this way. Parliament is now in Recess but the Sub-Committee will be meeting again shortly after Parliament resumes on Monday 10 October. I would be most grateful if you could let me have your response by then.

Letter from Clerk of Sub-Committee G to Equal Opportunities Commission dated 1 December 2005


  We were very grateful for the oral evidence which Tijs Broeke gave in your absence but hope that you might be able to throw some more light on the extent to which the EOC has been consulted by the British Government about the Proposal.

  We were surprised to see from your response dated 6 October the statement, in answer to question 5, that the EOC was not directly consulted by the British Government or by the European Commission, but was indirectly involved in consultation with the Commission through the European Advisory Committee on Equality for Women and Men.

  During the oral evidence session on 17 November Lord Harrison asked Tijs Broeke about this. You will see from the attached extract from the transcript (QQ 24/25, pages 18/19) that Tijs confirmed that the EOC was "indirectly involved through the Advisory Committee". He added that some members of your staff had participated in interviews with the Commission's feasibility study, which he described as being "involved in the scoping". This left us with the impression that the EOC was consulted indirectly by the Commission, but apparently not consulted by the British Government.

  At the oral evidence session on 24 November Baroness Gale asked the Minister about this. I attach an extract from the uncorrected copy of the transcript of the questions (Q 37-40, pages 10-12). You will see we were told that the EOC were consulted by the DTI by email in April 2004 and that the Minister was confident from the "regular contact" which she and her officials had with the EOC that "there is no real difference of approach between us with exceptions around issues on the budget".

  Liz Chennells went on to say that you were involved in the exchange of emails with the DTI and suggested that Tijs might not have been working for the Commission at that stage. She also said that, although there had been no formal consultation with the EOC since the exchange of emails about the Gender Institute Proposal, it had "come up a number of times in our informal meetings in relation to a number of other areas".

  The Sub-Committee would be most grateful for any comments you might have which might help to clarify this.

Letter from Equal Opportunities Commission to Clerk of Sub-Committee G dated 6 December 2005


  I am grateful to the Sub-Committee for allowing me to clarify our written response and the evidence my colleague Tijs Broeke gave at the oral evidence session on 17 November.

  As explained by Mr Broeke the EOC has been indirectly involved through the Advisory Committee and some members of our staff have participated in the interviews with the Commission's feasibility study. In addition, as the Minister stated at the oral evidence session on 24 November, the EOC has regular contact with the Minister and her officials in many different contexts and there are in general no real differences of approach regarding the establishment of the European Gender Institute between the Government and us.

  I would also like to take away some confusion regarding the email exchange between the EOC and the DTI as mentioned by the Minister and Liz Chennells. We have checked the exchange of emails, of which we were not aware when preparing the session of 17 November, and I can confirm that my colleague Janet Hemsley informed the DTI of our general opinion in response to an enquiry from them back in 2004.

  Ms Hemsley has since retired and I would like to apologise for the confusion this omission might have caused.

  Finally. please find attached additional information on the number of EU countries that have integrated equality bodies covering different non-discrimination and equality strands and on the funding cf the European Gender Institute on a "budget neutral" basis and the plans to take this out of the PROGRESS budget, as requested by the Sub-Committee.

Letter from Equal Opportunities Commission to Legal Assistant dated 21 December 2005


  I would like to thank you for the opportunity offered by the European Union Committee Sub-Committee E to provide additional evidence regarding the establishment of a European Fundamental Rights Agency in relation to the European Equality Institute.

  In relation to the Institute the Sub-Committee has formulated two questions:

    —  Should the protection of gender rights be separated from other fundamental rights through the creation of two separate agencies? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

  As stated in our submission to the EU Sub-Committee G regarding the European Gender Institute, the EOC would have preferred one integrated European body covering all equality strands including gender. Our experience as an equal opportunities body working on equality between women and men is that it is vital not to disassociate gender from the rest of the equality strands. The EOC therefore, especially with the creation of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights in mind, has been arguing for more coordination and cooperation at a European level regarding promoting equality and fighting discrimination.

  The advantages and disadvantages of setting up one integrated body or two separated bodies are discussed in our written evidence to the EU Sub-Committee G, and I do not think that we have any further points to make to that earlier evidence.

    —  How might the two bodies work together to ensure that overlap is avoided and that cooperation is maximised to improve their effectiveness?

  Given that a decision has been made to have two separate bodies it is crucial that duplication is avoided. Both Institutes could for example work together to carry out EU-wide research on the specific barriers faced by women with disabilities or the position of BME women on the labour market and suggest possible solutions or provide examples of best practices. Joint planning and close co-operation have to be ensured. Perhaps the European Commission can incorporate this need for joint planning and close co-operation into the statutes establishing both bodies? The two bodies can also work together on an operational level. Practical solutions could for example be secondments of staff between the bodies, shared training programmes for staff, joint research projects, joint planning, gender mainstreaming the work of the Fundamental Rights Agency and establishing both bodies in the same location. The Fundamental Rights Agency is currently located in Vienna. The new Gender Institute should ideally be located near to this location to promote close cooperation if the European Commission chooses to create of two separate organisations.

  Please find attached a copy of our submission (Annex A) of 14 December 2005 to the European Commission's consultation regarding the establishment of a European Fundamental Rights Agency, for ease of reference.

Annex A


  The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the consultation on the Fundamental Rights Agency for the European Union. As the statutory body working for sex equality in the UK, the EOC is keen to see a more integrated approach on equality to be developed. Below you find our responses to the Communication. We do not respond to all the questions raised by the consultation but rather focus on the issues linked to our work, experience and expertise (questions 1, 2, 3 and 4).


1.   How can the remit of the Agency be defined in order to ensure both added-value for the EU institutions and Member States and its efficient operation?

  The EOC welcomes the proposal to extend the remit of the existing European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). The focus in the Communication is, however, extremely wide in relation to the concrete areas it would cover. We would therefore like to suggest that the new Agency's remit is based on Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union.[1] This would provide a clear and coherent framework within which the new Agency could operate.

  In addition, we are concerned by the fact that plans to extend the remit of the EUMC coincide with parallel plans to set up a Gender Institute. Our experience as an equal opportunities body working on equality between women and men is that it is vital not to disassociate gender from the rest of the equality strands. We would strongly prefer one integrated European body covering all equality strands including gender to the current proposal for two separate bodies, one covering gender and one covering all other aspects of equality. However, if the current proposals are pursued it will be essential that each body's remit requires it to co-operate with the other.

2.   In which areas should the Agency operate? Should these areas be defined in relation to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union and if so how (by article or by chapter?). Should certain priorities be established? If so how? How can we ensure that the current remit of the EUMC (racism and xenophobia) is maintained and built on?

  We advise that the areas in which the Agency should operate, should be defined in relation to Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union. In this respect changing the name of the Agency into "Equality and Fundamental Rights Agency" would better capture the work of the new Agency.

  It is important to set clear priorities without creating a hierarchy of strands. The Communication gives no indication of the likely financial resources of the new Agency. The new Agency should not duplicate work that is already being done on a European level or national level, but it is equally crucial to ensure that adequate resources are provided for the Agency to carry out the ambitious remit that is set out. In this respect we would welcome clarification on how the Agency will be resourced. Using the budget of the new PROGRESS program to fund the extended remit of the EUMC or the new European Gender Institute, for example, would be unacceptable.

  The Agency should focus on projects that can offer an added value by adopting an integrated approach and pan-European approach. This means addressing cross-over issues arising in the different areas of discrimination and a very close co-operation with the new Gender Institute to tackle multiple discrimination. The Agency could for example, in co-operation with the new European Gender Institute, carry out EU-wide research on the specific problems facing women with disabilities and suggest possible solutions or provide examples of best practices.

3.   How can the geographic coverage of the Agency be best defined, bearing in mind the need to avoid overlap with existing organisations and the need to ensure that the Agency operates in the most efficient manner possible?

  The Agency should limit its scope to current and candidate European Union member states.

4.   Which tasks should the Agency be given? How can the Agency gather objective, reliable and comparable data at European level? How can cooperation with Member States and civil society to obtain this information be best assured? How should the Agency present its conclusions and recommendations? How should the work of the Agency be disseminated?

  The Communication mentions two tasks: data collection and the drafting of opinions. We agree that these are important. However, it is important that the Agency's data collection role should not be seen as freeing Eurostat from its responsibility to collect statistics that are disaggregated by sex, race, disability and so on. The Agency's tasks should ensure that the past work of the EUMC on racism is not lost or diluted. The Agency should have the additional tasks of raising awareness on issues of fundamental rights and equality making policy recommendations and presenting possible solutions or good practices.

Article 23 clarifies the equality between men and women further: "Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay. The principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex."

See: en.htm

1   Article 21 prohibits any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation. Back

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