Since the beginning of the year, Equinet Chair Evelyn Collins (Equality Commission for Northern Ireland), together with members of the Equinet Secretariat, has met with a number of European policy makers in order to highlight the work of Equinet planned for 2016, to communicate the learning from the work of equality bodies on different topics and shed light on their particular relevance to specific policies and activities being planned or pursued at European level.
Equinet, as the European network of equality bodies, serves as a platform for equality bodies from across Europe to:
On 20 April, Evelyn Collins, together with Anne Gaspard (Executive Director of Equinet) and Tamás Kádár (Head of legal and policy at Equinet), met with the new Director General of the European Commission’s DG Justice and Consumers, Tiina Astola and the Director for Equality Ms. Salla Saastamoinen, as part of our ongoing engagement with EU policy makers.
The objective of the meeting was to introduce the work of Equinet and equality bodies to Ms. Astola, as she only joined the Commission in February.
After being informed of our upcoming priorities and events, Ms. Astola outlined the relevant priorities of DG Justice and underlined the important contribution of equality bodies. She agreed on the need for equality bodies to be independent and effective in order to fulfill their full potential.
On 2 February, Evelyn Collins, together with Anne Gaspard and Tamás Kádár, met with Lina Papamichalopoulou, Head of Unit Non-discrimination Policies and Roma coordination and Farah Ludin (Policy Officer). They discussed important dates in Equinet’s and the European Commission’s diaries for 2016. Equinet was thanked for disseminating a recent questionnaire to its members on the Council Recommendation on effective Roma integration measures, to which eight members have already replied and more replies were still expected.
Equinet will be holding a Seminar on race and ethnic origin (with a focus on Roma) in November and will invite the Commission to contribute to this work. Ms. Papamichalopoulou expressed her interest in the meeting.
On 19 April, Evelyn Collins and Anne Gaspard had a fruitful meeting with Ulrike Lunacek, Vice-President of the European Parliament. They met with her on the fringes of the Swiss Re Conference “Getting the Balance Right III”.
They discussed the work of equality bodies to protect the rights of citizens and ensure equality inside and outside the labour market. The role of equality bodies in relation to the implementation of equality legislation in general was mentioned. The importance of the proposed Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive was also underlined.
On 3 March, Evelyn’s programme in Brussels started with a visit to the European Parliament (EP) to attend the Inter-parliamentary Committee Meeting organised by the EP’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) on Women Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the EU, with 44 members of national parliaments present. Martin Schulz (President of the EP), Mary Robinson (former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) and Nawal Soufi (Activist for Refugees) opened the meeting and spoke about the increase of women refugees, who are amongst the most vulnerable category of persons, subject to discrimination and often see their basic human rights violated.
Following this meeting, Evelyn Collins, Anne Gaspard and Tamás Kádár went to meet with Monika Ladmanová (Adviser in the Cabinet of Commissioner Vĕra Jourová). They discussed the issue of standards and positioning for equality bodies, particularly in the context of the forthcoming Equinet conference on strengthening equal treatment legislation and its implementation.
Ms. Ladmanová informed the colleagues that there would be a Commission Communication on the European pillar of social rights released in March, and our representatives informed Ms Ladmonová of Equinet’s recent Perspective on economic and social rights which is very relevant to this work.
Evelyn Collins, Anne Gaspard, and Katrine Steinfeld (Policy Officer at Equinet) then met with Daniela Bankier, Head of Unit Gender Equality. Together they discussed the gender focus of Equinet’s work plan for 2016, the European Commission’s plans on work-life balance and the gender pay gap in particular, the 2016-2019 Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality published by the Commission in December, as well as an upcoming focus on violence against women. Equinet also highlighted and invited the European Commission to contribute to Equinet Seminar on Gender in Education to be hosted in May in Prague.
Evelyn Collins and Anne Gaspard also met with Andreas Stein, Head of the Equality Legislation Unit. There they discussed Equinet’s work plan for 2016, in particular the work being carried out on standards for equality bodies in the context of an upcoming conference planned for this year on ‘Strengthening European Equal Treatment Legislation and its implementation’. They also got a further sense of priorities for the Equality Legislation Unit and looked for opportunities for continued collaboration during the year.
Chiara Adamo, Head of Unit for Fundamental rights and rights of the child also met with Evelyn Collins, Anne Gaspard and Tamás Kádár. They discussed Equinet’s engagement with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as the European Commission’s follow up to the first Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights, held last October.
Evelyn Collins, Anne Gaspard and Jessica Machacova (Equinet Project Officer) then met with Emmanuelle Grange, Head of Unit on Disability and Inclusion. This was the first official meeting with Ms. Grange following her start in her new function in December 2015 hence providing the opportunity to introduce the work of Equinet and equality bodies. Ms. Grange updated Equinet on the work of the Unit, particularly on the work being carried out on the European Accessibility Act and the Mid-term review of the EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020. Evelyn Collins expressed appreciation that Ms. Grange will be participating as a speaker on ‘The EU legal and policy framework for accessibility and reasonable accommodation’ at Equinet’s upcoming Seminar on Accessibility and Reasonable Accommodation, due to take place in Vienna on 4-5 April, and there was brief discussion of this also.
After the Executive Board meeting on 4 March, Evelyn Collins, Anne Gaspard and Tamás Kádár met with Michelle Sutton, Deputy Head of the Cabinet of Frans Timmermans, Coordination of the team of Commissioners on Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Justice, Consumer Affairs and Equality and Bernd Martenczuk, member of the cabinet with responsibilities for fundamental rights. This was a good opportunity to present the work of Equinet to the First Vice-President Timmerman’s Cabinet as well as discussing the key role and work of equality bodies to secure an effective implementation and enforcement of EU legislation and access to rights on the ground, and the need to support the work of national equality bodies.