EU refers Finland to European Court of Justice over racial equality failings

The Commission has repeatedly criticised Finland for not giving its Ombudsman for Minorities the power to deal with employment-related cases of racial discrimination. The EU says that Finland's proposed changes to the Non-Discrimination Act do not go far enough to bring the country in line with European directives on racial equality.

The European Commission urges Finland to take measures against discrimination. Image: Yle

The European Commission announced on Thursday that Finland will be referred to the European Court of Justice over shortcomings in the way it deals with cases of suspected racial discrimination.

In a statement, the Commission said that it is making the referral because the government has not given Finland's Ombudsman for Minorities the power to deal with issues relating to employment.

In 2004 Finland signed up to an EU directive pledging to set up a national equality body providing help to victims of discrimination, as well as carrying out research and making recommendations to improve equality within the country.

Although Finland subsequently established the office of the Ombudsman for Minorities, the government did not entrust the body with the power to deal with employment-related disputes.

Victims under-protected

Eva Biaudet, the current Ombudsman for Minorities, told Yle that her office regularly receives requests for help from people who believe they’ve suffered job-related discrimination. But the Ombudsman has very limited powers to carry out investigations in this field, meaning they cannot determine whether unfair treatment has taken place.

"It’s a very odd situation because the labour market, which is perhaps the most important field and where discrimination is really making people’s lives very difficult, is somehow less protected, the victim has less protection. And the Commission has said we’re not doing enough," Biaudet said.

Currently, all employment-related discrimination claims are passed to Finland's occupational health and safety inspectorate, AVI. However, Biaudet believes this body's neutral approach means that the AVI does not provide assistance and advice to victims in the way that the Ombudsman's office is able to.

Biaudet says her office has pressed the government on amending the legislation to bring the Ombudsman's powers into line with that of other countries, including in Scandinavia.

She said: "When we're compared to Ombudspersons in other Nordic countries, which are very similar, they all have a mandate in the labour market. And actually it makes up about half of their complaint cases, so it is an important issue."

No concrete progress

On Thursday the European Commission criticised Finland for making "no concrete progress" in complying with the directive, despite extensive discussion.

The government presented a proposal to Parliament in April, 2014 for a new equality law, but the Commission said that in its current form the proposal does not guarantee compliance with EU directives.

The European Commission’s legal action is intended to force Finland to bring the Non-Discrimination Act bill into line with EU directives.

10.20am 11.07.14: The headline and body of this article were edited to include clearer details about the nature of the action the EC is taking against Finland.

15.50 11.07.14: This article was updated with a response from the Ombudsman for Minorities.