In April 2015, MEPs Jean Lambert and Ulrike Lunacek (Verts/ALE) submitted a written question (E-005575-15) to the European Commission regarding ’Clear standards for equality bodies to perform their duties in EU Member States, and EU demands for equality bodies in accession countries’. The question read as follows:
Recent Council conclusions on Roma Integration recommended that Member States should ‘support the work and institutional capacity of bodies intended to promote equal treatment by granting them adequate resources’. The Commission’s joint report on the application of Council Directives 2000/43/EC and 2000/78/EC concludes that ‘strengthening the role of the national equality bodies as watchdogs for equality can make a crucial contribution to more effective implementation and application of the directives’.
In the absence of clear, legally binding standards for the independence and effectiveness of Member States’ equality bodies, what criteria does the Commission take into account in its assessments and in deciding, including for the purposes of infringement procedures, whether a national equality body is in practice able to, and indeed does, fulfil the tasks required under the EU equal treatment directives?
In the EU accession process it is clear that the Commission looks closely at the independence and internal capacity of accession countries’ national equality bodies, as has recently been the case with Croatia. Can it explain the discrepancy between the scrutiny of accession countries equality bodies and the lack of clear, legally binding standards for the equality bodies of Member States?
Directives 2006/54/EC, 2004/113/EC and 2000/43/EC require Member States to have equality bodies covering discrimination on grounds of sex and racial or ethnic origin. The Directives require these bodies to (i) provide independent assistance to victims of discrimination in pursuing the complaints of discrimination; (ii) conduct independent surveys concerning discrimination; and (iii) publish independent reports and make recommendations on any issue related to such discrimination. It is these requirements that the Commission takes into account in assessing Member States’ compliance.
The Commission has strictly monitored the correct transposition of these Directives as regards the equality bodies since these bodies, acting as watchdogs for equality, play a core role in ensuring effective implementation and application of these Directives. The Commission has contacted a number of Member States to inquire about their conformity with these requirements. Last year infringements proceedings were pursued against Finland and Slovenia. Finland was referred to the Court of Justice by the Commission due to this matter but the problem has been successfully resolved in their new legislation and, following this, the Commission decided on 29 April 2015 to withdraw this matter from the Court.
In the same way the Commission strictly monitors the implementation of EU law in countries seeking to accede to the EU.