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European Union (EU)

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Last updated 6th October 2012 (part update 7th October 2019).


European Union law will still be important in the UK after Brexit. See Brexit and the Equality Act 2010.

Framework Employment Directive

This is currently the key European directive obliging member states to enact anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people. The directive covers employment and related areas. The UK had to amend its disability discrimination rules to comply with the directive. The directive is also of ongoing importance in the effect it is having on how the courts interpret and apply British legislation, now the Equality Act 2010.

In the 2010 case of Kücükdeveci on age discrimination – but presumably the same applies to disability – the European Court said it was applying European primary law rather than the Framework Employment Directive as such. The Court said that the Framework Employment Directive gives expression to a general principle of European Union law on non-discrimination, rather than itself laying down the principle of equal treatment in the field of employment and occupation.

More: Framework Employment Directive.

Proposals on accessibility beyond the workplace

In 2019 the EU passed a new directive commonly called the European Accessibility Act. It focuses particularly on digital products and services. Member states will have to implement it by June 2022.

There is also a proposal for a wider Equal Treatment Directive going beyond employment, e.g. on provision of services and education. However progress on this has rather stalled.

More: EU directives on discrimination by service providers and in education.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

This Charter affirms fundamental rights of EU law, and contains some express provisions on disability. It has legal effect, but its importance as regards discrimination law has yet to be determined. See EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The background: European Union Treaty

The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam introduced an express basis for EU legislation to combat disability discrimination. This is now in Article 19(1) of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (eur-lex.europa.eu). Before December 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty came into force, it was Article 13 of the ‘Treaty establishing the European Community’. The current Article 19(1) reads:

Without prejudice to the other provisions of the Treaties and within the limits of the powers conferred by them upon the Union, the Council, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Article 19(1) does not prohibit discrimination (though it seems there is a general principle of European law which prohibits it: Kücükdeveci, 2010). Rather, Article 19(1) provides authority for the European Union to pass legislation to combat discrimination, in areas where the Union has competence. The Union has used Article 19(1) (it was then ‘Article 13’) to pass the Framework Employment Directive, which is currently the key directive obliging member states to enact anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people.

As well as the authority in Article 19, Article 10 of the Treaty requires the EU to combat discrimination based on disability when defining and implementing its policies and activities.

United Nations Convention

In December 2010 the EU became a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (pdf, eur-lex.europa.eu) defines EU mechanisms to implement this Convention, which will supplement national action.

Council of Europe

The European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe responsible for it are distinct from the European Union. For example the European Union court is in Luxembourg, whereas that of the European Convention is in Strasbourg.

Other measures

There are other EU measures aimed at combatting discrimination, including disability discrimination. For example, there is

See also under Further information below.

Further information

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