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Equality bodies and the Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights

October 6th 2015

On 1-2 October 2015, First Vice President for Better Regulation, Interinstitutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Frans Timmermans, in cooperation with EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, hosted the first Annual Colloquium on fundamental rights in the EU.

The Colloquium aimed at improving mutual cooperation and greater political engagement for the promotion and protection of fundamental rights in Europe. It sought to strengthen dialogue between the EU and international institutions, policy makers, academia and civil society, and deepen the understanding of challenges for fundamental rights on the ground. Other key objectives were to identify the gaps and achieve progress on topical fundamental rights issues.

The central theme of this first Colloquium was: "Tolerance and respect: preventing and combating antisemitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe".

The Colloquium was held in Brussels and brought together a selected number of high level participants from across the EU: national Ministers, representatives of leading NGOs and international institutions, MEPs and renowned academics and philosophers. Equinet and equality bodies represented there ensured a high profile for the work of equality bodies, as outlined below.

Stepping-up action to prevent and combat antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes

This session looked into hate crime more specifically and focused on the enforcement of legislative and policy tools developed by the EU to contribute to this phenomenon, in particular by means of criminal law (Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia) as well as by ensuring support to victims of crime (Victims’ Rights Directive).

François Sant’Angelo (Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities, Belgium) reminded participants of the shootings that took place in the Jewish Museum in Brussels last year. In general, hate crime in Belgium takes place where Jews are most visible (in the Jewish quarter in Antwerp, particularly around schools and synagogues) or against Muslims who wear head-scarves. The proportion of hate crime compared to antisemitic or islamophobic acts in Belgium remains relatively low: not more that 6% to 13%. He insisted on the fact that punishment should be more severe for hate crimes and that the police should register this as a hate crime when the complaint is made.

Tackling hate speech in a connected world

This session looked into the issue of hate speech, particularly looking at existing tools and possible further avenues to combat hate speech online. It also analysed how media literacy can contribute to counter stereotypes and encourage a tolerant and open society.

Jacques Toubon (Defender of Rights, France) participated in this session with a view to outlining the work carried out by the Defender of Rights in this area.

Fostering equality legislation and promoting non-discrimination policies

This session looked at the role of employment in fostering social inclusion and integration, diversity, mutual understanding and non-discrimination, as well as the importance of ensuring equal treatment in social protection, education and in access to goods and services, as proposed by the Commission in the draft Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive.

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Christine Lueders (Head of Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency - FADA, Germany​) highlighted the work of FADA, including supporting individuals with complaints, research on recruitment and selection, a pilot project for depersonalised applications, research on the use of test identities in respect of the housing market as well as the importance of adoption of the horizontal equal treatment directive and the development of EU wide common standards for equality bodies.

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Anne Gaspard (Equinet Executive Director) outlined the work being done by equality bodies in the area of religion or belief, briefly presenting our recently launched Perspective A Growing Agenda: The work of equality bodies on the ground of religion or belief. She underlined the importance of getting EU equal treatment legislation passed and correctly enforced, as well as calling for standards for strong and effective equality bodies.

Plenary Concluding Session

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Evelyn Collins (Chief Executive of Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and Equinet Chair) was the rapporteur of the session on "Fostering equality legislation and promoting non-discrimination policies". In addition to summarising the session, she highlighted:

  • Important role of equality bodies
  • Contribution of equality bodies to casework and research
  • Growing number of complaints linked to religion and belief, as shown in the Equinet Perspective
  • Importance of a comprehensive legal framework and adopting the horizontal directive
  • Importance of standards to ensure the effectiveness and independence of equality bodies

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Finally, Věra Jourová Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality announced that she will press ahead to have the Directive on equal rights adopted, and that equality bodies play a crucial role, including in the areas of better implementation of equality legislation and raising awareness about anti-discrimination.
Her full speech can be found here.

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Conclusions

The European Commission has released the conclusions of this Colloquium under the title ’Joining forces against antisemitic and antiMuslim hatred in the EU: outcomes of the first Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights’. Key actions to note for equality bodies are to be found on page 7 in particular:

  • The Council of the EU should adopt the Equal Treatment Directive, in order to strengthen the fight against discrimination on ground of religion in the area of social protection, education and access to goods and services.
  • Member States should strengthen the role and capacities of national equality bodies allowing them to reach their full potential in fighting against discrimination and protecting victims of discrimination. The Commission will support Member States and equality bodies in this endeavour.
  • Member States, including equality bodies, should combat underreporting of discrimination cases by raising awareness amongst citizens on the role of the equality bodies and the rights of victims of discrimination.