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Germany

Doing Away With Discrimination

The German government plans to introduce a law banning discrimination in a wide range of areas. But critics say the bill will simply create even more red tape for the private sector.

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Covered, among others: Age, sex and disability

A disabled person wanting to enter a stylish disco, a Turkish family or homosexual couple looking for an apartment, women earning less than their male counterparts for the same work: all of these are groups facing discrimination in Germany on a daily basis. But this is going to change.

The European Union requires all of its member states to give people legal mechanisms to battle discrimination on the basis of sex, racial or ethnic origin, age, disability, religion and sexual orientation. Germany’s ruling red-green coalition government has now introduced a planned anti-discrimination law to implement these EU directives.

“People discriminated against are no longer just victims,” said Irmingard Schewe-Gerigk, the women’s affairs spokeswoman for the Greens. “They can now demand their rights with confidence.”

Putting an end to “no Jews or disabled people”

The new legislation will be submitted to parliament’s lower house, the Bundestag, next month. It will prohibit discrimination in a wide range of areas, including jobs, working conditions, pay, education, as well as access to goods and services.

In practical terms, the proposed legislation will mean that landlords can’t turn away a potential tenant because he is a Muslim, for example.

Ehe von Homosexuellen

The planned anti-discrimination law also helps gay people

“Newspaper ads saying things such as ‘no Jews or disabled people’ will be banned,” said Volker Beck, the general secretary of the Greens’ parliamentary group.

The legislation would also require insurance companies to justify why their policies differ according to a person’s sex or sexual orientation.

“It will no longer be possible for health insurers to refuse cover to homosexuals on the grounds that they belong to a group at high risk of HIV,” Beck said.

An unnecessary burden for the German economy

But both Germany’s conservative opposition CDU/CSU and the private sector are unhappy with the bill. Although all welcome the moves to fight discrimination, they criticize that it will generate over-regulation.

“It will create a new bureaucracy monster instead of reducing red tape and saving costs,” the CDU/CSU parliamentary faction said in a statement.

Dieter Hundt, president of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations BDA said the German economy would be unnecessarily burdened with such a law.

Dieter Hundt

Dieter Hundt is not in favor of the new legislation

“The draft law is bureaucratic, incalculable, completely overdrawn and incompatible with the basic principles of our civil law and our labor relations,” Hundt (photo) said.

The Federal Justice Ministry dismissed these claims. Spokesman Ulf Gerder said the anti-discrimination law would not affect 95 percent of the population.

“Most people are sufficiently informed about Article 3 of the German constitution, which forbids discrimination,” he said.

But there were 5 percent of the population who neglected to follow these principles of equality.

“In these cases, there is every reason for the law and it is necessary,” Gerder said.

No American conditions

So will the country be facing a surge of legal battles in the future? Ursula Engelen-Kefer, deputy head of the trade union confederation DGB, said no.

“Opponents are presenting a horror scenario of compensation payments or a wave of lawsuits as in the United States, but this is utterly unfounded,” Engelen-Kefer said.

The law does have its problematic aspects, though, Beck of the Greens party said. The burden of proof lies with the party being discriminated, he said. So landlords, employers or nightclub owners remain innocent until proven guilty.

Sauna

The new law will not require uni-sex saunas

However, the elderly will continue to be able to enjoy those senior citizen portions in restaurants. And women who prefer visiting the sauna on female-only days can breathe a sigh of relief. These forms of “discrimination” will continue to exist.

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