The German parliament has debated a proposed anti-discrimination law put forward by the government. Based on a series of EU directives, the draft law goes even further. Critics say it will create more bureaucracy.
Age discrimination would be prohibited by the new law
The anti-discrimination law, which had its first reading in the Bundestag on Friday, would make punishable discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, age, sex, disability, religion or sexual orientation. The aim is to prevent discriminatory practices at the workplace, in educational institutions, or, for example, by landlords.
Volker Beck, parliamentary floor leader of the Green Party, called the law an "important signal" for German society. Speaking before the legislative body, he listed what he said were several common discriminatory practices in Germany: women forced to pay higher premiums for health insurance; homosexuals refused life insurance policies; or disabled people not being allowed to stay at resort hotels, on the reasoning that other guests might be disturbed by their presence.
"That is a monstrosity that we want to stop," he said.
The legal expert for the Social Democrats (SPD), Olaf Scholz, told parliamentarians that the proposed law was "pragmatic" and should not pose a problem for any "decent citizen." He said the legislation aims to make the already self-evident ban on discrimination between the state and the population apply equally to relationships between citizens.
But the draft law has run into harsh criticism from both opposition politicians and industry and trade groups, who say it will only create more bureaucracy and could hinder economic growth.
The opposition accused the governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens of trying to promote a particular ideology with the "cudgel of the law." While the two conservative parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), said the protection of the disabled and equality between men and women were important, the proposed anti-discrimination law was not the right approach to ensure this.
Karl-Josef Lauman of the opposition Christian Democratic Union said the proposed law went far beyond the requirements of the European Union, which requires a ban only on discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. He added that the law was "a further step towards making the country more bureaucratic."
Bad for the economy
Anton Wirmer, an adviser for the German trade association BAG, told reporters it would hurt attempts to make it easier to do business in the country. "It will make German labor law, which is already heavily regulated, even more complicated," he said.
Germany's current anti-discrimination rules at the workplace focus mostly on women and the disabled. The new law will expand on this and ease the burden of proof needed to sue a company over, for example, its personnel decisions. Up to now, workers in Germany have relied on the country's general dismissal protection.
"This [law] will ensure even more bureaucracy and small and medium-sized companies will suffer," said Maria Eichhorn, a parliamentarian with the conservative Christian Social Union.
She warned of a flood of lawsuits, an accusation that the SPD's Scholz dismissed as
Germany pulling up the rear
Germany is one of the few EU countries that has not made the guidelines from Brussels into law. Most other member states passed laws meeting the requirements in 2003 or 2004. A draft law was presented in 2001 by then-Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin but was withdrawn after a torrent a criticism.
The delay prompted EU regulators in December to sue Germany, along with Greece, Austria, Finland and Luxembourg for failing to pass anti-discrimination laws.
The legislation is expected to be passed in the spring since it does not need approval of the upper house of parliament, or Bundesrat, where the opposition has a majority.