The European Commission as the guardian of the European Union’s regulation is responsible for designing legislative proposals and policies of the European Union and for proper and full implementation of European Union acquis. The area of the fight against discrimination within the European Commission is covered by the Directorate General for Justice and Consumers. The European Commission has accepted multiple measures on fighting discrimination, intended in particular to:
• Improve knowledge about discrimination by raising awareness among residents about their rights and liabilities and positive effects of diversity;
• Support indirect actors (NGOs, social partners, authorities for equality) in order to improve their capacity to fight discrimination;
• Support the development of equality policies at national level and to promote the exchange of good practice between EU countries;
• Achieve change in the fight against discrimination with training activities to fight discrimination;
• Promote the development of diversity and inclusion policies in the workplace.
To ensure proper application of European Union rights to equal treatment in practice, the European Commission has recommended that Member States shall endeavour to:
• Increase public awareness about anti-discrimination rights, to concentrate on those who are the most at risk, and to include employers and trade unions in these efforts. The European Commission provides funding for such activities and has published a practical guide for victims of discrimination;
• Facilitate reporting about discrimination for victims by improving access to mechanisms for appeal. National authorities for promoting equality play a pivotal role, whereby the European Commission supports networking of authorities to promote equality and ensures that they can efficiently perform their duties in accordance with the requirements of EU legislation;
• Ensure access to judicial protection for victims of discrimination. The European Commission’s guide for victims includes specific guidelines about how to file a complaint of discrimination and to continue with the process, whereby the European Commission also funds training for lawyers and NGOs representing victims of discrimination regarding how to use EU legislation on equality;
• Address special discrimination faced by the Roma, as part of their national Roma integration strategies.
In 2007, the European Union founded a European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights – FRA (Fundamental Rights Agency) to provide institutions and EU Member States independent assistance and expertise in the field of fundamental rights. The headquarters is located in Vienna, operating with 113 employees and having 21.2 million euro at its disposal; 73 per cent of the budget is spent on operational activities.
In addition to its supporting role, the FRA has performed several pan-European studies in individual areas (violence against women, discrimination based on various personal circumstances, hate speech, etc.). These studies are an important contribution to understanding and addressing negative social phenomena, such as hate speech or discrimination.
The FRA’s field of work includes diverse issues associated with many personal circumstances, such as gender, religion, political belief, sexual orientation or identity, disability, etc. Furthermore, the FRA has also issued manuals for lawyers on European Union legislation and jurisprudence. The manuals also feature topics such as asylum, border control, immigration, data protection and the fight against discrimination.
The agency organises annual conferences on fundamental rights, which are attended by hundreds of experts and other stakeholders, both from EU institutions and national authorities. Every year, one of the issues is in the forefront, such as hate speech, immigration, children’s rights.
Within the EU, FRA cooperates with the European Parliament, the European Commission, the EU Council and EU agencies. Outside the EU, it cooperates with the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations. At the national level, it cooperates with governmental authorities, as well as connects and organises the exchange of good practice between representatives of Member States.
The Fundamental Rights Platform – FRP is used for building dialogue with civil society. Around four hundred civil society organisations work within the FRP from all the EU, which meet annually and cover diverse players from various areas of operation.
The FRA’s multiannual framework of work areas includes: access to judicial protection, assistance to victims of crime, including compensation, digital society, and the respect for privacy and the protection of personal data, Roma integration, judicial cooperation (except in criminal matters), children’s rights, discrimination, immigration and integration of immigrants, visa and border control, racism, xenophobia and intolerance.
Expressing opinions to the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of the EU also belongs to FRA’s working areas. This includes research or opinions on specific areas not necessarily in the FRA’s work programme. Member States may also request comparative data from it, e.g. for use in preparing national policies. Countries and other institutions often rely on information provided by the FRA.
Equinet is an international NGO, which seeks to strengthen its efforts to eliminate discrimination, promote equality and especially to strengthen the position and skills of authorities for the equality principle. This is achieved by versatile mutual cooperation of 46 members from 34 European countries as well as cooperation with various international actors, especially the European Commission, which offers significant support to its operation, but also the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, Council of Europe authorities (Commissioner for Human Rights, ECRI, etc.) and the United Nations.
Equinet represents an important junction for the work of bodies for the equality principle on an international level. Equinet tries to actively contribute to the development of legal practice and standards of protection against discrimination.
Authorities for the equality principle are independent organisations which help victims of discrimination, monitor and report on the issue of discrimination and advocate equality. Their statutory duties are promoting equality and fight against discrimination in connection with one or more circumstances covered by EU law – gender, race, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief and disability.
Equinet also states that EU legislation on equal treatment requires that the Member States establish authorities for the equality principle. Most Member States have already taken measures associated with Directive 2000/43/EC (about implementing the principle of equal treatment of persons irrespective of race or ethnicity) and directives on gender equality (2010/41 about self-employed, 2006/54 recast directive and 2004/113 about goods and services), either by supplementing or transforming already existing institutions or by founding new, which will perform tasks defined with new legislation. European anti-discriminatory law requires the establishment of bodies in the fields of race, ethnic origin and gender. Despite this fact, several countries have special bodies intended to address discrimination also due to other circumstances.
The Advocate of the Principle of Equality also took over the membership in Equinet, the European Network of Equality Bodies. Cooperation between Member States is targeted particularly in strengthening the ability to work effectively and develop their potential (education, transfer of knowledge and experience and good practices, debate about effective use of the EU acquis, effective policies, strategies of development, communication approaches, etc.), but also to support organisations in ensuring their autonomy and independence.
Within the Council of Europe, there are three bodies which the Advocate of the Principle of Equality closely cooperates with. In 2017, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality met with the members of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and the Commissioner for Human Rights, in Ljubljana.
The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe is a political authority responsible for ensuring the respect and enforcement of human rights, promoting education and awareness-raising about human rights, and ensuring compliance with the Council of Europe’s acts on human rights. Their role is mostly preventive and complements the roles of the European Court of Human Rights and other conventional bodies. Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights introduces the appearance of the Commissioner for Human Rights Act before the court as a third party and enables filing of written opinions and participation in the process.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) operates in the field of human rights. It consists of independent experts and controls problems in connection with racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, skin colour, nationality, religion and language. It issues reports on Member States in these areas and recommendations for action. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance is convinced that authorities for the equality principle play an important role in the prevention of discrimination at the national level. In its general recommendations, it encourages their creation and the strengthening of existing authorities. In the fight against racism and intolerance, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance considers national authorities for the equality principle as strategic partners and strengthens its working relations with them.
The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities controls the implementation and enforcement of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe. Slovenia as a Party to the Framework Convention is committed to report to the Committee about the state within their national borders associated with the protection of minorities every 5 years. Advisory Committee members then visit Slovenia and the Advisory Committee gives an opinion about improvement, stagnation or deterioration of the state in the country, while also presenting proposals to address pressing problems. Based on the opinion of the Committee, the Board of Ministers issues a resolution whose recommendations bind the country to fulfil its obligations. Because the Advocate of the Principle of Equality has a statutory right to establish discrimination also regarding the personal circumstances of nationality and ethnic affiliation, the operation of the Advisory Committee and its recommendations are also key guidelines for him in this field.
Respect for and protection of human rights, whose foundation is a principle of non-discrimination and human dignity, are one of the main priorities of the United Nations. In addition to maintaining international peace and security, promoting friendly relations among nations, striving for international cooperation and acting as a global platform, human rights are one of the key development areas of the United Nations and its structures.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presents a commitment of the Council to universal ideals of human dignity. It is a part of the United Nations Secretariat and mainly operates in Geneva. The priorities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights are mainly strengthening of international human rights protection mechanisms, promoting equality and fighting against discrimination, efforts in the direction of the rule of law, integration of human rights in the area of development problems and economy, as well as coordination of education on human rights. The Advocate of the Principle of Equality shall also rely in their work to a certain extent on the recommendations and guidelines of the United Nations High Commissioner, and cooperate with their regional office.