European Commission: Controversial “Anti-Discrimination” Directive is not a priority. But neither is it dumped.

15546866The European Commission has yesterday announced a work programme for 2015, which it describes as an “agenda for change”. This agenda comprises not only a list of new priority actions, but also – very remarkably for Europe’s bureaucratic Leviathan – a list of 80 pending legislative proposals to be formally withdrawn. This is indeed a real change of culture, given that until now legislative proposals, once they had been adopted by the EU’s executive, were usually kept alive endlessly even if there was no willingness of Member States to adopt them. In this way, these proposals continued re-appearing on the agendas of Council working groups, wasting time and financial resources that could have been used more efficiently.

The newly proclaimed “principle of political discontinuity” is therefore certainly a step in the right direction, which will to some extent help the European Union to focus on what is essential.

Contrary to what a press release following a meeting of Ministers for Social Affairs had stated a few days ago, the controversial draft for a new “Anti-Discrimination” Directive appears no more to be a priority for the Commission – at least it is not on the official priority list. However, it comes as a disappointment that the Commission did not have the courage to include the draft in its list of proposals to be withdrawn.

Judging from the reasons that are brought forward to justify the withdrawal of several other proposals, there would indeed have been compelling reasons to dump this one as well. It is true that some of the proposals to be axed are far older than the “Anti-Discrimination” Directive, one of them (on the tax treatment of private motor vehicles moved to another Member State) dating back as far as 1998. However, there are many more recent proposals that will be dumped because “no agreement was reached in Council” – for example item 36 on the list, a proposal dating from 2013. Yet the same could be said of the controversial “Anti-Discrimination” Directive, which has been discussed in Council since 2008, and which, given that unanimity is required, still seems rather far away from adoption.

The Commission states its intention “to cut red tape and remove regulatory burdens” – but is a directive that, without having demonstrated a pressing need for such interference, restricts the contractual liberty of citizens, not a striking example for unnecessary regulatory burden? Are the documentation requirements it generates (because every supplier of goods and services must at all times be able to prove that he is not “discriminating” someone) not precisely what one would with right call “red tape”? It is, furthermore, not clear why such a measure must be adopted at EU level and in a form that, once it were adopted, would make it very difficult to repeal it in case its practical impact were discovered to be different from what was intended. Should not those Member States that absolutely want such a law adopt it at domestic level, leaving the other Member States in peace? Why is such a directive needed for the functioning of the interior market?

The last word is not yet said. There is growing resistance among citizens, who for many years have simply not been aware of this proposal and who, upon learning of it, clearly dislike it. There is also growing wariness among Member States. And there will, hopefully be many more such withdrawal lists, if the new Commission wants to remain loyal to its stated intentions.