Written by Wouter van Ballegooij with Jeffrey Moxom,
Equality is one of the fundamental values on which the European Union is founded. It is reflected in the Treaties and the Charter, as well as in EU secondary legislation. Nevertheless, one in five people within the EU have experienced discrimination in the last 12 months. To make matters worse, one-third of all women in the EU have experienced an act of physical or sexual violence. Disabled people do not have the tools to exercise their rights to independent living. In other areas social progress is under threat of reversal. LGTBI people encounter new waves of discrimination and hate crimes.. Certain actors fan the flames of racism and xenophobia, exploiting public anxiety in the wake of the refugee crisis and recent terrorist attacks.
Discrimination has serious impacts on both individuals and society. A denial of rights, material and immaterial damage, health status, and a loss of earnings, among other impacts, are just a number of problems facing individuals. At the societal level, there are significant impacts on GDP, tax revenue, and social cohesion. This report looks into the Cost of Non-Europe in the area of Equality and the Fight against Racism and Xenophobia. It identifies the gaps and barriers in these areas in the current legal framework, estimates the impacts of these gaps, and outlines policy options to combat them. The research covers the specific grounds of sex, race and ethnicity, religion and belief, sexual orientation, age and disability.
Gaps and barriers
The EU works hard to end discrimination and hate crimes, but more remains to be done. International standards aimed at further empowering women and disabled people have not yet been fully incorporated. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly covered by the current EU legislation defining hate crime. Individuals who are discriminated against because of their religion or belief, a disability, or age, are only protected within the field of employment – a key barrier highlighted in the report. Furthermore, there is a lack of correct implementation of EU legislation and a need for training and data collection, which could offer a better picture of the situation on the ground.
These issues have led to a scenario that could be termed a ‘hierarchy of grounds’, in which protection is applied unevenly across the Union. Transposition of directives and their implementation constitutes a large part of the challenge to ensuring adequate protection against discrimination. In addition, an unduly wide interpretation of exception clauses, and a lack of awareness of rights and obligations among the general public, including possibilities for access to justice for victims, compound these difficulties.
The report draws a distinction between impacts at the individual level, due to an inadequate protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, and economic impacts upon Member States. The report’s analysis investigates these impacts and provides quantified estimates of their costs.
At the societal level, a large proportion of the quantified damage is due to the gender pay gap (a GDP loss of €240 billion by 2030), violence against women (a GDP loss of €30 billion) and barriers to the enjoyment of the right to independent living for people with disabilities (annual costs of €15-41 billion). However, individual impacts take on a far more serious and insidious character than simply monetary loss, not to mention the higher risk of physical assault and impacts on mental health. Discriminatory behaviour can be direct and acute, in the form of violence or hate crimes that can lead to physical injury, instilling fear and insecurity in victims. Impacts range widely, from comparatively reduced access to employment, goods and services, healthcare, education and social inclusion, to criminal victimisation, including harassment and indirect discrimination.
For certain grounds (such as sexual orientation and age), robust quantification of the impacts proved to be difficult to establish, due to a lack of systematic data. Nevertheless, discrimination based on these grounds exists and is qualitatively and quantitatively affecting citizen’s daily lives. For example, individual impacts in the area of race and ethnicity include lost earnings of up to €8 billion, and demonstrably higher risks (17.5 %) of economic hardship, alongside an increased risk of assault of 9.7 %. This research also found that nearly half (47 %) of LGBT persons across the EU felt discriminated against or harassed on the ground of their sexual orientation during the previous 12 months.
The study also assesses the added value of a number of options for EU action and cooperation to ensure the effective protection of the rights of individuals, notably better implementation and the expansion of protections for all groups outside employment. The EU must adopt an array of legislative and non-legislative tools, utilising various options in tandem with one another.
Such options include:
- EU Accession to the European Convention on Human Rights and to the Istanbul Convention.
- The introduction of an EU specific mechanism for monitoring Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights;
- Improved implementation and enforcement of EU Equality legislation;
- Adopting the proposed horizontal anti-discrimination directive and amending the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia to extend protection to victims of discrimination based on grounds such as sexual orientation or gender identity;
- Encouraging gender equality by expanding protections such as the availability of parental leave and measures to limit the gender pay gap;
- Expanding the application of positive action and reasonable accommodation; and finally
- The use of EU funds could be leveraged to further enhance equality across the EU.
Further action and cooperation at EU level would lead to better compliance with EU values and rights and reduced discrimination, resulting in a multitude of benefits for individuals and society.
Read this study on ‘Equality and the Fight against Racism and Xenophobia: Cost of Non-Europe Report‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.