On the 2 June 2008, the European Commission published a new proposal for a Directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation.
This proposal covers other areas than employment and vocational training, which are already protected by an older Directive (2000/78). The purpose of this Directive is to combat discrimination on the ground of disability as well as of religion or belief, age and sexual orientation, in the following areas: social protection, including social security and health care, social advantages, education, access to and supply of goods and other services which are available to the public, including housing.
The Directive prohibits discrimination in both the public and private sector but as regards to the access and supply of goods and services it will only apply to private persons in so far as they are performing their commercial activities or professional. It will not apply to private individuals acting on their personal capacity.
The Directive says that discrimination can occur under different forms. The Directive protects citizens with disabilities against: direct discrimination, if a person is treated less favourably than another person because of a disability, and from indirect discrimination, if a provision which is apparently neutral would disadvantage people with disabilities in comparison with other people. Also, it protects them from harassment, instruction to discriminate against a person because of a disability, as well as from denial of reasonable accommodation (if an organization refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation, although it is not a disproportionate burden in the given case).
The Directive also says that measures to enable persons with disabilities to have effective access in the areas mentioned above have to be provided by anticipation. In addition, when it is needed reasonable accommodation (reasonable changes to goods or services) should be also provided.
These measures should not impose a disproportionate burden on the organization that is providing measures by anticipation or reasonable accommodation. The Directive says that this notion of disproportionate can be assessed taking into account the size and the resources of the organization, its nature, the estimated costs, the life cycle of the goods and services and the possible benefits of increased access for persons with disabilities. The Directive also allows measures of positive actions (positive discrimination), to compensate for the disadvantages linked with disability.
The existing National Equality Bodies will be in charge of monitoring the rights of victims of discrimination, through individual assistance to victims and/or reports and recommendations on the situation of discrimination against people with disabilities and the other groups.
To enter into force, this Directive will have to be adopted with unanimity by the European Council after consultation of the European Parliament, according to Article 13 of the Treaty on the European Union. We can expect the Directive to be adopted only in the beginning of the year 2009. There will then be a deadline for the Member States to transpose the Directive in their national law.