Published 26.05.2021

As the European Commission has launched a European Diversity month on 3 May, the ABBL Brussels office thought it would be a good opportunity to look at what the EU and in particular the European Commission is doing in that respect.

In her state of the Union speech in 2020, the first ever female European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen reiterated the importance diversity had in her policies: “I will not rest when it comes to building a Union of equality.” Indeed since the beginning of her mandate, the European Commission has been committed to achieving a Union of equality. To achieve this goal, the Commission is putting in place mechanisms, policies and actions that challenge structural discrimination and the stereotypes that are often present in our societies. In order to create the conditions for everyone to live, thrive and lead regardless of differences based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. For an equal Union ensuring that decision-making takes into account the needs of everyone in our societies, and addressing intersectional discrimination is also important.

In order to mainstream equality into all EU policies a European Commissioner, Helena Dalli, has been appointed with equality as her main responsibility, and a Task Force on Equality has been created at the beginning of the mandate. This way the Commission aims at integrating an equality perspective in all EU policies and majors initiatives.

What has been done since this Commission mandate and what is to come

A Gender Equality Strategy for which the key objectives are :

  • ending gender-based violence
  • challenging gender stereotypes
  • closing gender gaps in the labour market
  • achieving equal participation across different sectors of the economy
  • addressing the gender pay and pension gaps
  • closing the gender care gap and achieving gender balance in decision-making and in politics.

The Commission has presented this year a proposal for binding pay transparency measures. A legislative proposal by the Commission is also expected this year to combat gender-based violence.

An EU anti-racism Action Plan, calls for better enforcement of EU law, closer coordination with people with a minority racial or ethnic background, Member States, the European Parliament and civil society, fair policing and protection, reinforced action at national level through national action plans, and increased diversity of EU staff. The next steps include:

  1. The appointment of an EU anti-racism coordinator in 2021.
  2. An implementation report on the Racial Equality Directive in 2021 with possible proposal for new legislation by 2022.
  3. National action plans to be adopted by the end of 2022 with a first progress report by the Commission at the end of 2023.

A new EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation sets a series of targets to be achieved by 2030.

A lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Equality Strategy focuses around four main pillars: tackling discrimination, ensuring safety, building inclusive societies, and leading the call for LGBTIQ equality around the world. The Commission will this year present – an initiative by the Commission to extend the list of ‘EU crimes’ to hate crime and hate speech, including when targeted at LGBTIQ people. A proposal of a legislative initiative on the mutual recognition of parenthood and possible measures to support the mutual recognition of same-gender partnership between Member States is also expected.

A strategy for the rights of people with disability has been adopted this year, which focuses on proposing a European Disability Card for all EU countries that will facilitate mutual recognition of disability status between Member States, helping disabled people enjoy their right of free movement, the Commission will develop guidance and launch an initiative to improve social services for persons with disabilities. Finally, the strategy aims to protect persons with disabilities from any form of discrimination and violence.

Can we see some effect?

Effects of diversity policies are not always easy to trace, however, EU political observers can notice that over the past few years the pressure to look at diversity when appointing a new role has increased, and one can already see that there are today many more women for instance at key posts dealing with Financial services policies. Just a few examples: Christine Lagarde as president of the ECB, Mairead McGuinness as EU Commissioner for Financial Services, MEP Irene Tinagli as chair of the European Parliament ECON Committee, Venera Ross as leading candidate for Chair of ESMA, Nathasha Cazenave recently appointed executive director of ESMA.


By Aurélie Cassou