ECAS blog

On 15 July 2010, the Centre for Parliamentary Studies organised a symposium in Brussels entitled ‘Equality and Diversity in Europe: Tackling Multiple Discrimination against Migrants’. The event was chaired by Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez (delegate of the University of Manchester). Other delegate speakers included Floya Anthias (delegate of the Roehampton University), Suzanne Monkasa (delegate of the Conseil des communautés africaines en Europe, Réseau des Femmes Immigrées d’Europe), Doris Peschke (delegate of the Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe), Michaël Privot (delegate of the European Network against Racism), Patrick Taran (delegate of the ILO) and John Wrench (delegate for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights).

The central topic of the symposium was the notion of ‘multiple discrimination’. All presentations aimed at a better understanding of this phenomena, whether being its roots, its characteristics or even its preventive measures, on the European level. As Taran put it, there is an increasing demand for migration and mobility in Europe. At the same time, Anthias cleverly stated, the existing EU legislation is primarily concerned with ‘equality of treatment’, while somewhat undermining ‘equality of outcome’ when tackling discrimination and multiple discrimination. This discrepancy coupled with the public opinion’s generally poor understanding of the complexities of discrimination results in problems of equality that were addressed at this symposium.

As Privot explained, multiple discrimination occurs when a person is discriminated against for multiple reasons. In addition, all guest speakers shared the perception that multiple discrimination counts for more than the mere sum of all grounds of discrimination. Unfortunately, that view is not reflected in the current EU legislation. According to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, there are distinctly defined types of discrimination* which, moreover, are treated as mutually exclusive and cannot be employed in combination with one another. On the other hand, even when the EU legislation is attempting to tackle the issue by adopting a more multidimensional approach, Anthias was quick to observe that these new EU directives are ineffective. According to the professor of Roehampton University, because the directives are not intersectional, all grounds of discrimination are distinct, ultimately failing to notice the interweaving between the different grounds, without mentioning the problem of defining certain grounds (i.e. ethnicity).

Lastly, it is obvious from all the guest speakers’ presentations that the EU needs to massively improve its legislation if it is to deal with the growing problem of multiple discrimination. Within an organisation such as the EU, with its diverse Member states and different societies, who do not necessarily share the same perceptions of social reality phenomena, as shown through Wrench’s comparison of newer and older EU Member states’ citizens’ awareness of discrimination** , it is difficult to see how a consensual opinion may emerge on multiple discrimination and the ways to deal with it. In addition, Taran pointed out how current testing methods fail to single out the input of the different discrimination grounds in a case of multiple discrimination, so that we never truly know the impact of the interweaving process. Until these issues are resolved, we can only hope that the civil society organisations’ continue to provide valuable insight in a field which has yet to be fully understood.

* Art. 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU states that only sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age and sexual orientation are considered as possible grounds of discrimination.

** The results survey on employment discrimination, conducted by the EU Agency for the Fundamental Rights suggested that, as a general trend, the older EU Member states (i.e. Western Europe) had a better overall understanding and were more conscious about employment discrimination than in the newer Member states (i.e. Eastern Europe).

by Darko Brizic

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