Die Welt, one of the main German newspapers, has published an op-ed article by Christine Lüders, Director of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency of Germany and active Equinet member. Following increasing examples of discriminatory and homophobic acts across Europe, she highlights the lack of protection for LGBTI people, as well as people with disabilities, seniors and members of religious minorities, across EU Member States under current European laws.
Discussions are currently taking place at the European level to extend EU equal treatment legislation beyond the current remit. This means that persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation would be guaranteed protection against discrimination not only inside, but also outside the field of employment, as is already the case for racial/ethnic origin and gender . However at present, this proposed legislation is being blocked within the European Council, most notably by Germany.
According to Lüders, "The situation is absurd: The federal [German] government refuses to hold concrete negotiations on a new Equal Treatment Directive, which would guarantee many people in Europe the same level of protection that German citizens have had for a long time now”. Thus, the owner of a Viennese café who recently ejected two ladies for kissing would be in clear violation of the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) if it had taken place in Germany. In Austria however, there is no civil law protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, thus these women have no recourse for action. This is also the case in many other European countries.
Not only is this causing a problem for people from other countries, but “the Berlin blockade also harms German citizens in other European countries: The gay couple from Berlin on a trip to Riga may be denied a hotel room. The person in a wheelchair from Frankfurt/Oder has no recourse when denied access to a shop in Slubice. The German pensioner living in Spain is not legally protected from age discrimination, as they would be in Germany”.
Many Member States have decided to go beyond the requirements of the EU Equal Treatment Directives as they currently stand. These countries enacted legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, religion and belief and disability beyond the field of employment and many Member States established equality bodies whose mandates include these grounds to assist citizens and potential victims of discrimination.
Yet for those countries where important gaps and inconsistencies in protection from discrimination exist, EU equal treatment legislation is vital. For this proposal to be adopted, all Member States must agree to it unanimously, Germany included. In Lüders’ opinion, “given the existing level of protection in Germany, there is no reason for Germany to stop European legislation from passing. If it does, it would be a full-blown scandal”.
Equinet’s recent reports addressing discrimination on the grounds of age, religion and belief, sexual orientation, and disability provide ample material to support the need for protection against discrimination on these grounds outside employment. Based both on the experiences of equality bodies that have such a mandate and those that currently lack one, it is recommended that the Horizontal Directive is adopted as soon as possible.
Equinet recognises that the latest version of the legislative text discussed in the Council does contain some important limitations and the level of protection seems in some instances to have been weakened compared to the original proposal. Nevertheless, Equinet supports the adoption of the legislation proposal in the Council as soon as possible, with a view to aim for the highest level of protection against discrimination for citizens in and across EU Member States.
 The so-called Horizontal Directive would close an existing gap in Equal Treatment Legislation by ensuring protection for all protected grounds also outside employment. Currently Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 ensures equal treatment on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation only in the context of employment. In the case of gender and racial / ethnic origin, current legislation already covers both employment and goods and services : the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity, and discrimination on the basis of gender is protected by the Recast Directive (2006/54/EC), the Goods and Services Directove (2004/113/EC) and the Self-Employment Directive (2010/41/EU).