The Union of Equality builds on local communities' work on the ground: this is the key message that members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) stressed today in a debate with European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli. Local and regional politicians from across Europe welcomed the inclusion of an equality perspective into all EU policies, legislation and funding programmes. They stressed that local communities are on the front line in promoting equal opportunities and protecting vulnerable groups and minorities, and condemned any persecution of minorities. They also highlighted that delivering on a real Union of Equality requires more financial and political support from the EU and the Member States to implement equality, inclusion and anti-discrimination policies at local and regional level.
Adressing the #CoRplenary, Commissioner Helena Dalli said: "The fight against discrimination and the promotion of equality is a shared responsibility which requires joint and resolute efforts of all EU institutions. We will only bring changes and progress if local and regional authorities are treated as strategic partners in the implementation and monitoring of the Union of equality package."
CoR President Apostolos Tzitzikostas said: "Equality is one of the founding values of the European Union. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities and discrimination, hitting marginalised communities disproportionally hard. We must continue to challenge structural discrimination and stereotypes and ensure that political decision-making takes into account the needs of everyone in our societies. As local leaders, it is our duty to promote equality at local and regional level''.
CoR Members discussed today two opinions linked to the Union of Equality package: one on EU anti-racism plan and one on the Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities.
The opinion on EU anti-racism plan highlights the local and regional authorities' key role in tackling racism and hate crime, protecting vulnerable groups and minorities and promoting social inclusion. Local and regional authorities should thus be recognised as strategic partners in designing, implementing and monitoring the relevant national action plans, which should be complemented by local and regional ones in order to better combat racism at grassroots level.
"A Union of Equality is a Union we can all be proud of, a Union that empowers all its citizens to thrive. Fighting racism, both structural and individual, is a high priority because it is deeply rooted across EU Member States. To address it effectively, local and regional authorities must be recognised as strategic partners in the design, implementation and monitoring of all anti-racism actions", said rapporteur Yoomi Renström (SE/PES), Chair of Ovanåker Municipal Council.
Regarding the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the CoR opinion points out that having a disability is associated with greater risk of poverty, exclusion and depression. It calls for systematic inclusion of persons with disabilities in decision-making by working with civil society organisations, associations of persons with disabilities and their family members. The implementation of the strategy should be monitored with effective indicators to measure and assess the impact of the social inclusion of people with disabilities.
“Municipalities and regions play a key role in social policies by providing concrete answers and support to the most immediate needs. The opinion focuses on aspects of particular importance for people with disabilities, who are around 80 million in Europe: work and concrete employment support policies, incentives for businesses and investment in training, accessibility and dismantling of architectural barriers, as well as the health aspect. There is a need for caregiver friendly policies which take into account the impact that care for people with disabilities has on the labour market, especially with regard to women, as they are, to a very large extent, caring for children and family members with disabilities", said rapporteur Daniela Ballico (IT/ECR), Mayor of Ciampino.
While equality is one of the founding values of the European Union, different forms of discrimination remain frequent across Europe. A special Eurobarometer published in 2019 shows that almost 59% of respondents consider discrimination on the basis of racial or ethnic origin to be widespread in their country. The Covid-19 crisis has further exacerbated existing inequalities, marginalisation and discrimination. The European Commission has therefore presented a wide range of initiatives with the aim of reaching gender equality, combatting racism and promoting the inclusion of different minorities, such as LGBTQI communities, Roma people and disabled people.
The CoR has already adopted opinions on the EU Gender equality strategy and on the Roma strategic framework. The opinion on the LGBTQI strategy was discussed at the CoR's SEDEC commission in April and will be adopted at the October plenary session.
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