On Tuesday, the Maltese Helena Dalli, previously Minister for European Affairs and Equality in Malta, answered questions by MEPs in the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL). Due to the fact that she will be entrusted with the issue of equality, the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) chaired by the social democrat Evelyn Regner also took part, as were MEPs of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). Helena Dalli shall become Commissioner for Equality - it is the first time in the history of the EU that this Commission post has been set up.
In her opening address, Dalli made clear that the Equality Portfolio is close to her heart. She pointed out that discrimination not only harms the people affected directly but that it destroyed entire societies. Dalli, a declared feminist, promised that she would use her position as Commissioner to devote her time in office to fight for gender equality. To this end, she announced a new gender equality strategy, which firstly shall implement gender mainstreaming more consequently in the work of the EU institutions, secondly tackle stereotypes and fixed roles and thirdly remove economic aspects of inequality, such as the gender pay gap and the gender pension gap resulting from it. Supported by a newly established Task Force for Equality, Dalli announced that she would already submit a recommendation for pay transparency, on the basis of which pay gaps shall be monitored and fought, after 100 days in office.
Intersectional approach on equality and anti-discrimination
Fortunately, Dalli showed great expertise on multi-dimensional and overlapping forms of discrimination and said that she would her work but be informed by an intersectional approach. She mentioned the example of Muslims, who are discriminated against regarding access to housing, people with disabilities, who still hardly have chance to get a job or Roma, who experience extensive discrimination in all areas of life. A current study, commissioned by the AK confirms these findings for Austria. To the great resentment of Conservative and right-wing populist MEPs, Dalli explicitly referred to her commitment regarding the rights of trans and intersex persons, which was greeted with much applause by many progressive MEPs.
Overcoming obstacles in the Council
Also worth mentioning are Dalli’s plans to solve the over 10-year long blockage of the Equal Treatment Directive in the Council and to at last adopt the Directive on Improving the Gender Balance among Non-Executive Directors of Companies Listed on Stock Exchanges and Related Measures , which has been blocked since 2012. Replying to the question of several MEPs, Dalli also promised to prioritise the fight against gender-based violence, established in the Istanbul Convention, and the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights for women. In cooperation with the Commissioner-designate Schmit, the implementation of the Directive on Work-Life Balance also falls in her area of competence.
Conclusion: Great support for Dalli
Both in her native country Malta and at European level, Helena Dalli has already made a name for herself as a long-term champion of inclusive equality policy. In addition, she already held talks with non-governmental organisations that among other stand up for the rights of people with disabilities or LGBTI people prior to her hearing. Dalli is a promising appointment for the post of Equality Commissioner - many MEPs already declared their support during the hearing. However, Dalli’s plans are quite ambitious. The last years show that Member states do not shy away from open resistance and blockage to the EU acting on discrimination – a resistance that has been very difficult to overcome in the past.
The issue of discrimination and suitable instruments in the fight for equality will be discussed with invited guests, among other MEP Evelyn Regner, within the scope of an event in Brussels on 16th October 2019 organised by AK EUROPA.