Equal opportunities and non-discrimination in the EU

The European Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the rule of law. Hence the EU must take all measures necessary to combat discrimination of all kinds.

The general principle of equal opportunities contains two key elements: one is the ban on discrimination on grounds of nationality, and the other is equality for men and women. It is intended to apply to all fields, particularly economic, social, cultural and family life. In order to promote equality in the EU, 2007 was designated the "Year of Equal Opportunities for All."

The Treaty of Amsterdam added a new provision, reinforcing the principle of non-discrimination, which is closely linked to equal opportunities. Under this new provision (Article 13.), the Council has the power to take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. Moreover, thanks to its programme to combat discrimination (2001-2006), the European Union has been encouraging and complementing the activities of the Member States to combat all forms of discrimination.

The EC Treaty includes provisions against nationality discrimination and guaranteeing the free movement of workers within the EU (art.12, 9 EC Treaty). The European Court of Justice has applied these in a number of cases. The population of the enlarged EU is increasingly diverse. That is why there is a pressing need to improve opportunities for migrants, people with disabilities, younger and older people as regards education and employment. In order to uphold and advance the legacy of the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities the European Commission set up in July 2008 a governmental expert group in the field of non-discrimination and the promotion of equality. The group examines the impact of national and EU-level non-discrimination measures, validates good practice through peer learning and evaluates the effectiveness of non-discrimination policies.

It is very important to work on the social and labour-market integration of minorities, including the Roma, because the Roma community is now the EU's largest ethnic minority. Measures to promote the equal treatment of the Roma are therefore of particular concern to the European Union. The EU is taking action to support the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller community across Europe.

Gender equality is a key political objective for the EU and a central piece of the non-discrimination strategy. But it is also important in order to achieve the EU's economic and social goals as part of the EU's Lisbon Strategy aimed at promoting economic growth and competitiveness. The Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010 defines some existing areas and proposes new areas of action. Six priority areas have been selected:

Enormous progress has been made during the last couple of years in developing a legal and policy framework. However, much remains to be done in order to ensure the full and effective implementation of this framework across the enlarged EU.

Diána Horváth