Commission refers Estonia to European Court of Justice on gender equality legislation

The Commission has today referred Estonia to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for non-transposition of EU rules prohibiting gender discrimination in access to and supply of goods and services (Directive 2004/113/EC). Estonia has not yet adopted all the necessary measures to give effect to the legislation in national law, despite a 'reasoned opinion' (second stage warning) sent by the Commission in February 2009.

Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Equal Opportunities, said: "Discrimination on the basis of gender is unacceptable. We have effective EU legislation which all members of the Union need to transpose into national law. I urge Estonia to proceed as quickly as possible with the adoption of the necessary measures."

The Commission sent the Estonian authorities a reasoned opinion – the second stage of infringement proceedings – in February 2009, giving them two months to reply. They informed the Commission that amendments to the Gender Equality Act, the Equal Treatment Act and Employments Contract Act were expected to be adopted in the first half of 2009. Thus, they responded to the Commission that they were in the process of adopting the necessary measures to transpose the Directive fully, but have not yet communicated the adoption of these measures. Consequently, the Commission has decided to refer the case to the ECJ.

The deadline to bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the Directive expired in 21 December 2007, and two years later, in 2009, for the provisions on insurance costs related to pregnancy and maternity.


EU rules ban sex discrimination outside the workplace and prohibit direct and indirect discrimination based on sex, as well as harassment and sexual harassment. They apply to goods and services which are available to the public, outside the area of private and family life.

They do not apply to the content of media and advertising or to education, matters of employment and occupation. Examples of areas where the directive does apply are transport, housing, hotel accommodation, banking, healthcare, and insurance.

Some exceptions to the principle of equal treatment may be permitted if justified by a legitimate aim and if appropriate and necessary, but in any case they should be narrowly interpreted, as for example the protection of victims of sex-related violence, in cases such as the establishment of single-sex shelters; freedom of association, in cases of membership of single sex private clubs; etc.

Infringement procedures consist of three steps. The first step is that the Member State receives a letter of formal notice and has two months to respond. In case further compliance with EU legislation is needed, the Commission sends a reasoned opinion. Again the Member State has two months to reply. If there is no satisfactory reply, the Commission can refer the matter to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. It can also request that the Court impose a fine on the country concerned if it does not comply with the Court's ruling.

Further information

Information on the transposition of EU gender equality legislation into national law can be found at:

Published on: 2009-06-25

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