Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Independent: Malta one of five countries opposing Anti-Discrimination Directive


The introduction of the Anti-Discrimination Directive may have to be postponed because of opposition from five EU countries, Malta included, even after it was approved by the European Parliament last April.

The directive is intended to reduce discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, age, disability or sexual orientation, whether direct or indirect, and whether based on real or presumed criteria.

It follows three other directives: one on discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin, both within and outside the labour market; one on discrimination in the labour market, and one on equal treatment for men and women.

Sweden, which currently holds the EU presidency, wants to introduce the directive this year, but opposition from Germany, Poland, Italy the Czech Republic and Malta means the directive will probably not be ready to be introduced until next year.

The directive will apply to social protection and health care, social benefits, education and access to goods and services, including housing.

Under the directive, harassment – when a person’s dignity is violated by creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment – must be deemed a form of discrimination.

The directive also bans intimidation on grounds of disability – as understood in the definition by the United Nations – in access to social protection, social benefits, health care, education and goods and services.

Member states may allow some differences in treatment, such as access to education provided by religious bodies.

In addition, differences of treatment on grounds of age may be accepted if legitimate, for example the sale of alcohol, weapons or the granting of driving licences.

But young people with disabilities must also have access to favourable terms and conditions such as free or reduced tariffs for public transport, museums or sport facilities.

MEPs stressed that the directive does not impinge on the separation of powers between the EU and its member states, nor does it affect national law on marriage, the family and health.

Member states retain responsibility for the organisation and content of education. National laws on the secular nature of the state are not affected, nor are differences of treatment based on nationality.

Critics argue that the directive paves the way for interference in the social policies of member states and further empowers homosexual activists.

Originally intended to serve as an equal treatment directive for the disabled by prohibiting discrimination when accessing “goods and services, including housing”, the directive was expanded to include the categories of religion or belief, age and “sexual orientation”.

The directive has been heavily criticised by Britain’s Catholic bishops, who said it could force Christians to act against their conscience.

They claimed that if it is not amended, the directive could be used as an “instrument of oppression” aimed at religious believers by homosexual activists and other anti-Christian groups.

Mgr Andrew Summersgill wrote, on behalf of the bishops of England, Wales and Scotland, that the directive would require Catholic organisations to act against their beliefs.

Kathalijne Maria Buitenweg – a member of the European Green Party who is chairman of the directive’s drafting committee and the vice-president of the parliamentary working group of the International Lesbian and Gay Association– stressed the importance of “combating all forms of discrimination,” saying “it must be possible for two men to occupy a hotel room”.

On the other hand, Mgr Summersgill said that the organisers of a Catholic conference, for instance, would be legally obliged to make double rooms available to gay and unmarried couples as well as to married heterosexuals.

Moreover, he said the directive’s definition of harassment would mean that anyone who felt offended by an expression of Christianity could bring a legal action against the churches.

“Homosexual groups campaigning for same-sex marriage may declare themselves to be offended by the presentation of the Catholic Church’s moral teaching on marriage… an atheist may be offended by religious pictures in an art gallery, or a Muslim may be offended by any picture representing the human form,” said Mgr Summersgill.

On the other hand, the Universal Society of Hinduism has welcomed the directive.

Acclaimed Hindu statesman and president of the society, Rajan Zed, hailed the new directive, saying discrimination should have long been outlawed in the EU.

He said equality has been a core value in Hinduism and it even advocates an “uncoloured” approach towards all things and beings.

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