The EU has in place action plans and legislation to fight racism and promote equality and non-discrimination but standardised statistical data to follow-up them is still largely missing.
The issue was discussed at a roundtable organised last week by the European Commission together with stakeholders in the member states and EU bodies such as the European Data Protection Supervisor, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).
Significant proportions of people in the EU experience discrimination, inequality and social exclusion on a regular basis. This can be based on their gender, ethnic or minority background, skin colour, religious belief, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, or a combination of these, as findings from FRA show.
According to a Commission document on Guidelines on improving the collection and use of equality data, this calls for a reconsideration of how legislation and policies to promote equality are implemented and how progress on the ground can be monitored. Equality data are a crucial element of this reconsideration and tools to support the fight against discrimination and exclusion.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the most marginalised people in our society,” Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said at the roundtable (30 September). “Only with comparable and reliable data, our policies will be able to ensure full inclusion and protection of all EU citizens equally. We need a common standard, which can be used equally by all member states.”
The Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, reminded that, “The COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled discrimination and violence against minority groups, which extent we are unable to properly quantify.”
“This confirms that, without evidence in the form of equality statistics, it is impossible to track progress towards equality. The absence of comparable and regular data on equality and non-discrimination prevents us from reaching out to the most vulnerable in our society, and dampens the incisiveness of our responses to current forms of discrimination.”
To lead by example, the Commission will collect data on the diversity of its staff for the first time. In the member states, however, the collection of personal data disaggregated by protected characteristics such as racial, religious or ethnic origin is a particularly sensitive issue since they are known to have been misused in Europe’s dark past, for example by Nazi-Germany and occupied countries during WII.
But according to the Commission guidelines, if collected and processed in full respect of the existing legal framework and the safeguards it sets out, such data are essential for member states to assess their compliance with human rights obligations and enables policy makers to design evidence-based measures to address discrimination, inequalities and exclusion.
The guidelines are intended to provide practical guidance to member states on how to gradually improve the collection and use of equality data, with a view to assist them in monitoring the implementation of relevant legislation, policies and measures they devise to that effect.
In particular, Roma people are subject to racism (anti-gypsyism) and discrimination which has worsened during the Coronavirus crisis.
“I was always in favour of collection of qualitative and quantitative equality data, as one of the main instruments to make sure policies are effective and will reach the people from the communities,” Marius Tudor, a senior political adviser at the European Parliament where he works with non-discrimination and Romani policies, told The Brussels Times.
“There is a need for systematic collection of robust ethnic and gender disaggregated data to help in setting targets and impact indicators in order to ensure the best outcome in terms of matching needs with planning and budgeting, both at national and EU level.”
Should the collection of equality data be compulsory in the EU member states?
“Absolutely, it should be compulsory and they should work on a common methodology to collect and publish equality data disaggregated by ethnic origin, as defined by the EU Racial Equality Directive, that is voluntary, anonymous and ensures the protection of personal data, self-identification and consultation with relevant communities.”
The collection of data must be done at local level, among community members. Member states and the Commission must change their approach; they must reach out to community members, and find out the problems directly from the source, as well as the solutions,
Are the guidelines to the point?
“The guidelines could be an efficient tool in ensuring equality for all, as long as it will be implemented,” he replied. “It could be an inclusive mechanism to ensure the equal participation of Romani and pro-Romani civil society organisations, experts and community members from all levels, moving from a paternalistic approach to a non-paternalistic approach.”
The Brussels Times