Berlin Opposes New EU Anti-Discrimination Laws | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.10.2008
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Berlin Opposes New EU Anti-Discrimination Laws

Back in July, the European Commission proposed new EU-wide anti-discrimination legislation. While several of the member states are in favor of more EU control, others, including Germany, aren't so sure.

European Union flag reflected in glass.

Germany thinks the EU should butt out of national matters

German Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen spoke out against the strengthening of current EU regulations in this area during a meeting with her European counterparts in Luxembourg on Thursday.

Supported by Italy, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Greece, she accused the EU Commission of exceeding its authority.

Spain, Great Britain, the Benelux nations, Austria and Sweden, by contrast, all stood behind the Commission.

The proposals unveiled by EU Social Commissioner Vladimir Spidla are designed to beef up social protection across the bloc. That includes the protection offered to disabled people, the old, homosexuals and religious and ethnic miniorities.

The draft legislation supplements existing laws that ensure mainly equal treatment in the workplace, seeking to root out discrimination in socially-sensitive areas as social security, health care, education and access to and supply of goods which are commercially available to the public, including housing.

The measure proposes setting up "Equality Bodies" in all member states to which a sufferer of discrimination could complain before pursuing a possible court action.

For example, a lettings agency could be sued in court if it denied an apartment to homosexuals.

The proposal would not cover family law, so it would not try to legalize homosexual marriages. It would also not try to change national measures that ensure the secular nature of their education system.

Difference of opinion

German Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

German Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen doesn't think EU regulations should be strengthened

Von der Leyen, however, maintained that no new EU regulations were necessary.

"We believe that Germany has created a very high level of protection," she said.

But the EU Commission thinks that Germany still needs to beef up protections against discrimination in terms of the housing market. According to the recommendations put forth in July all professional rental agencies should be subject to the anti-discrimination regulations. Under the current rules in Germany, they "usually" only apply to renters who have more than 50 properties to rent out.

However, von der Leyen refused to discuss the content of the draft legislation. The real question here is: "Should Europe meddle in national affairs or not?" said the minister.

Not enough

A child in a wheelchair is speaks with a man at a UNICEF birthday party.

The EU proposed a European-wide strengthening of regulations protecting people with disabilities

The Dutch social minister Piet Hein Donner held firm, saying that the European community is a community of shared values.

"No member country can seriously have something against the recommendations of the Commission, which aim to better protect these values," he added.

Donner's Austrian counterpart, Erwin Buchinger even demanded even tougher regulations than the Commission has already proposed.

"We would like a more ambitious approach for people with disabilities," he said. "The level of protection needs to be as high as possible."

But even the supporters of the new guidelines are a little critical, specifically saying that the EU Commission's proposed plan is sloppily formulated and is full of obscurities. "There are more questions that answers," said Dutch social minister Donner. The Commission should now analyze the consequences of their recommendations before they proceed any further.

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