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European Equality Law Network

European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination

Workshop 5


Niall Crowley is an independent equality and human rights expert working with a range of European institutions, including the European Commission and the Council of Europe, and in a range of European jurisdictions. He wrote the 2022 thematic report on structural discrimination on the ground of racial or ethnic origin for the network.

The EU Anti-Racism Action Plan names structural racism as the underlying problem of racism, which Niall Crowley identified as an important example of symbolic policy-making. For this reason, he began his presentation by offering some thoughts on symbolic policy-making. He explained that, while this concept is important, as it introduces and confirms new goals and emphasises core values and principles, it faces challenges of policy ambiguity and policy conflict, thus a lack of agreement on policy framing and the means of implementation.

While he considers structural discrimination to be defined as manifesting across the three elements of historical, societal and institutional discrimination and generating unequal outcomes of social, economic, political and cultural disadvantage, he observed that different definitions and conceptions of structural discrimination exist in different parts of the EU Action Plan, as well as within EU Member States’ policy measures. Furthermore, he could not identify any specific provisions at the national level which prohibit structural discrimination. He therefore sees a need to generate policy clarity in order to fight structural discrimination.

Niall Crowley also observed problems at the national level with policy implementation, which focuses mostly on the individual level and lacks drivers from government, equality bodies and civil society to tackle the issue of structural discrimination. Similarly, he problematised a lack of enforcement and follow-up mechanisms, political will and a clear pattern of means of intervention. Consequently, this weak institutional infrastructure at national level leads to policy conflict.

He concluded by proposing several ways forward on the European as well as the national level.



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Powerpoint Structural discrimination

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