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Introduction

In 1997 the Member States of the European Union unanimously decided to add a new article to the Amsterdam Treaty: Article 13. This allowed the Council of the European Union to adopt measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. After the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty on 1 May 1999, the Commission proposed, and the Council adopted unanimously measures to implement Article 13: a Directive covering discrimination on grounds of race and ethnic origin (Directive 2000/43/EC, the Racial Equality Directive) and a Directive covering discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation in employment and occupation and in vocational training (Directive 2000/78/EC, the Employment Equality Directive).

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 the EU remains committed to combat discrimination and to promote equality (Article 19, ex-Article 13 TEC). Mainstreaming is introduced in all policies and activities of the EU with regard to discrimination on grounds of sex, racial and ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights of is now formally recognised as legally binding.

Application of EU law

According to EU Law, the European Commission is entitled to initiate infringement proceedings against Member States if they had failed to transpose EU directives into their national legal order or if sufficient or incorrect implementation had been done. The Commission may start enforcement action either in response to a complaint brought by an individual or on its own initiative. Infringement proceedings may be brought to the attention of the Court of Justice of the European Union and ultimately the Court is entitled to impose financial penalties on the Member States which would have failed to comply with a previous judgement establishing a breach of EU law.

Individuals may rely directly on EU directives provisions, rather than on the national implementing legislation, under certain conditions, when they claim discrimination against the State or public authorities before national courts. In any other case, in particular against other individuals, redress may be obtained through recourse to national courts, in accordance with national law. Reference for a preliminary ruling may be made to the Court of Justice of the European Union, if legal interpretation of national of EU provisions is needed under the light of EU law. The preliminary reference procedure aims at ensuring uniformity in the interpretation and application of Community law.

Go to the European Commission - Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities This initiative is financed by the EC Programme Progress. But the views expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect the official views of the EU institutions.