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The Detail of Discrimination

Samira Lazarovic (tkw)
March 8, 2005

Whilst Germany is still locked in debate over the introduction of a new anti-discrimination law, other countries have already stitched EU guidelines on discriminatory practices into the fabric of their judicial systems.

Germany added disabled people to the EU list of protected minoritiesImage: AP

Although all that is required of Germany by the EU is to implement its guidelines on outlawing gender, race or ethnic discrimination, the German government has opted to complicate the issue by adding the categories of religion, ideology, sexual orientation, age and disability to its list of no-nos.

While government representatives say they have a particular duty to minority groups in Germany, political and economic opponents to the guidelines have criticized the unnecessary web of bureaucratization they would undoubtedly weave, and the havoc they would wreak on the German economy.

Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel has slammed the introduction of such a wide-reaching law as the ultimate job terminator, and economic experts have warned against a flood of lawsuits and hidden risks.

No economic threat

Schwule Hochzeit in Kalifornien
No discrimination for sexual orientation.Image: AP

But experts from the "pro" camp have been shaking their heads furiously at the wave of resistance.

"The experience with countries which already have extensive anti-discrimination laws is living proof of the fact that such rulings do not destroy jobs," Dilek Cinar of the European Center for Social Welfare Policy and Research said, quoting Canada and Australia as classic examples of successful immigrant countries.

And growth rates in Britain, Ireland and Sweden also defy the warning cries that the legislation will stultify investment. All three countries have already implemented the EU guidelines and all three are basking in a healthier glow of economic growth than the Federal Republic of Germany.

Culture of complaint

Yet there is more to the critics' fears than the potential loss of jobs. They are concerned that Germany, like England, could experience a veritable flood of complaints if that is what legislation allows. Since passing the law in the UK, the number of sexual discrimination charges has doubled to 14,000.

Although Cinar doesn't believe the law would lead to such dramatics, he did concede that "one cannot implement such laws and then hope that nobody complains."

Deutsche Rentner in Spanien
Age discrimination is already covered in old EU nations' lawsImage: dpa Zentralbild

Implementing the EU version of the law is one thing, but Germany wants to go several steps further to incorporate an extended array of potentially marginalized groups. Herbert Buscher of the Halle Institute for Economic Research said the government is going too far.

"Why does Germany have to be the model pupil again?" he asked. "The other EU countries were happy not to top the guidelines."

Rather than going through any unnecessary new law-making processes, many European countries apparently prefer to rely on existing regulations to cover such issues as age discrimination. And Buscher believes Germany should follow their lead.

"All one has to do is read the constitution," he said. "It clearly states that nobody may be discriminated against or given preferential treatment on the grounds of gender, descent, race, language, homeland, origin, belief, religious or political ideology or disability."

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