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The information contained on this page represents the situation as of 1 January 2014 and is a summary of the  country report produced by the country expert from the network. The summary can be downloaded  here as well.

Matthias Mahlmann

Country context

Like many other countries, Germany enjoys a plural society. It has autochthonous minorities, the Danish and the Sorbs, neither very significant in number. The Friesians of German nationality and the Sinti and Roma of German nationality are also officially recognised as minorities. However, the most significant ethnic minority groups are immigrants, including the so-called “guest workers” (Gastarbeiter) and their descendants. Prior to the Nazi period, most immigration was by Polish people. 

Main principles and definitions

The anti-discrimination law defines direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and instruction to discriminate, following closely the definitions in the Directives. Discrimination by association is not explicitly covered. One provision deals with multiple discrimination on various grounds. It is stated that any case of such discrimination must be justified independently. Positive action is declared to be admissible if the discrimination serves to overcome existing disadvantages based on any of the grounds listed.

Enforcing the law

The means of enforcement of the anti-discrimination law are the same as for other areas of law, apart from certain special mechanisms, that is through the courts. There is a growing body of case-law on various aspects of discrimination. Many aspects have not been settled and some of the case-law is contradictory.

Main Legislation

The Constitution, or Basic Law (Grundgesetz), is of central importance for understanding the German legal framework on discrimination. Unlike some other constitutions, the German Constitution is directly binding on all public authorities. Fundamental rights are part of this directly effective constitutional order. They are binding on the legislature, executive and judiciary as directly valid law. Under the Basic Law, fundamental rights have become the material core of the legal order in general. They are therefore not only relevant in public law, but permeate other legal spheres as well, such as criminal and private law.

Material scope

a) General

The constitutional guarantees apply to all state action and, through indirect horizontal effect, to the relations of private individuals. The specialised guarantees apply to their respective field of regulation – public law, labour law, social law, etc.

Equality bodies

The anti-discrimination law established the Federal Anti-discrimination Agency (Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes) from the moment it entered into force in August 2006, although the body only started to operate in 2007. Its mandate covers all the grounds listed in the law, notwithstanding the powers of specialised governmental agencies dealing with related subject matters. The body is organisationally associated with the Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. The head of the agency is appointed by the Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, following a proposal by the government, which happened for the first time in spring 2007. In 2009 a new head was appointed. The head is independent and only subject to the law. The tenure of the head of the agency is the same as the legislative period of the Bundestag.

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