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The principle of equal pay for men and women was initially introduced in 1957 under the Treaty of Rome. Within the scope of the following steps on the road to European integration, additional treaty provisions further consolidated and expanded the basis for a European approach.
The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam made an important breakthrough by declaring the furtherance of equality between women and men to be a fundamental task of the EU. The Treaty also obliged member states to eliminate inequality and promote equality between women and men in all areas of activity. Finally, it also introduced a new article empowering the EU to take action against all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender or other attributes.
The EU Draft Constitution Treaty signed by the heads of state and government on 20 October 2004 in Rome would only have succeeded in replacing the EC Treaty had it been ratified by all member states. Rejection of the constitution in referendums in France and the Netherlands placed an enormous question mark on the EU constitutional process. Consequently, the idea of a constitution was no longer pursued in this form, and the EU reform process was continued within the scope of the Lisbon process.
The EU Draft Constitution Treaty contained provisions similar to those in the EC Treaty in terms of equality between men and women; however it also additionally contained reference to equality and non-discrimination in the provisions on values within the EU and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Equality between women and men was explicitly stated in ‘Values of the Union, Objectives of the Union’, in Title III on ‘Equality’ (non-discrimination, equality between women and men), in the generally applicable provisions and in the Title ‘Non-discrimination and citizenship’ in the ‘Social policy’ chapter/section.
The Treaty of Lisbon finally entered into effect on 1 December 2009 (following delays with ratification in Ireland and the Czech Republic). The Treaty provided for reform of the EU institutions and improvements to its working methods – moves that had become necessary in light of EU expansion. Important changes are the strengthening of the EU Parliament and national parliaments, introduction of the EU citizens’ initiative, enhanced decision-making with qualified majority voting, creation of the position of EU President and introduction of the office of a High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy as well as a European External Action Service.
A significant result of the Lisbon Treaty is also the strengthening of common EU values and the rights of EU citizens. Incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights means that it is now legally binding as primary European law. In the paragraphs on values and objectives preceding the Treaty, explicit reference is also made to equality between women and men and to the furtherance of such by the EU.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights signed in 2000 once again reinforces the prohibition of discrimination and the obligation to ensure equality between women and men in all areas.
The Treaty of Lisbon explicitly refers to the Charter and the basic rights deemed inalienable by the EU which are afforded to European citizens vis-à-vis EU institutions and under Community law. As such, the rights stated in the Charter have binding legal authority in the EU. Accordingly, the institutions, organs and agencies of the EU are required to observe the rights set out under the Charter. This same obligation also applies for member states in their implementation of European legal provisions. The Court of Justice is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Charter. Incorporation of the Charter does not alter the competence of the EU, but does provide citizens with greater rights and freedoms.
In March 2010, under the guidance of Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, the EU Commission presented a ‘Women’s Charter’ in the form of a policy declaration. In taking this step, the Commission wishes to express its increased commitment to gender equality over the next five years. The Charter reinforces the Commission’s obligation to gender mainstreaming; namely, consideration and targeted support for equality between women and men in all policy areas. In particular, the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy aims to give full consideration to aspects of equality. Overall, the Charter is the Commission’s response to calls by the European Parliament for increased action to combat violence against women.
The Charter states five key areas for action over the next five years:
- the promotion of equal economic independence through more equality in the labour market,
- equal pay for equal work and work of equal value,
- the promotion of equality in decision-making,
- a comprehensive policy to protect human dignity and eradicate violence against women, and
- the promotion of gender equality beyond the EU to other countries and international organisations.
Founded on the basic rights created by the Treaties, since the 1970s the Union has introduced 13 directives dealing with gender equality. These concern legislation in the following areas: equality in relation to work and employment issues, employee pregnancy/parental leave, social security, self-employment and spouses, and access to goods and services.
- Equal Pay Directive – 1975
(75/117/EEC – OJ L 45 dated 19.2.1975)
- Equal Treatment Directive – 1976
(76/207/EEC – OJ L 39 dated 14.2.1976)
- Directive on Equal Treatment in Matters of Social Security – 1979
(79/7/EEC – OJ L 6 dated 10.1.1979)
- Directive on Equal Treatment in Occupational Social Security Schemes – 1986
(86/378/EEC – OJ L 225 dated 12.8.1986)
- Directive on Equal Treatment of the Self-Employed – 1986
(86/613/EEC – OJ L 359 dated 19.12.1986)
- Health and Safety of Pregnant Workers Directive – 1992
(92/85/EEC – OJ L 348 dated 28.11.1992)
- Parental Leave Directive – 1996
(96/34/EC – OJ L 145 dated 19.6.1996)
- Directive on the Burden of Proof in Cases of Sex Discrimination – 1997
(97/80/EC – OJ L 14 dated 20.1.1998)
- Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment, Vocational Training and Promotion, and Working Conditions – 2002 (the so-called Gender Equality Directive)
(2002/73/EC – OJ L 269 dated 5.10.2002)
- Directive on Equal Treatment in Access to Supply of Goods and Services – 2004 (the so-called Directive on Equal Treatment Outside Employment)
(2004/113/EC – OJ L 373 dated 21.12.2004)
In 2006, during revision of the Directive on the Implementation of the Principle of Equal Opportunities and Equal Treatment of Men and Women in Matters of Employment and Occupation (2006/54/EC, 5.6.2006), a number of existing directives were simplified and updated, with seven existing provisions replaced by a single comprehensive text.
For many years, the focus of EU action in the area of non-discrimination centred on eliminating discrimination on the basis of nationality or sex. However, Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) afforded the Community new powers to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. Accordingly, in the year 2000 two anti-discrimination directives entered into force:
- the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) (the so-called Anti-racism Directive), which implements the principle of equal treatment of people irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, and
- the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC) (the so-called Employment Framework Directive), which creates a general framework for equal treatment in employment and training.
In July 2008, the Commission concluded a proposal for a Council Directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment. The proposal for the directive is founded on the priorities of the revised social agenda and framework strategy on non-discrimination and equal treatment for all, and aims to protect people from discrimination on the basis of disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief. Implementation of the equal treatment principle within a directive is intended to supplement the existing EU legal framework by way of the above directive. The principle of equal treatment contains a prohibition on direct and indirect discrimination, applicable to all persons in the public and private sectors as well as public bodies. Its scope of application extends to social protection (including social security and health care), social benefits and education, as well as access to and the supply of goods and services such as housing and transport.
- Equality between men and women (summary of EU legislation on equality between women and men)
- Combating discrimination (summary of EU legislation on combating discrimination)
- Equality and Gender in Europe
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