European Union Treaty and Charter Obligations
last updated 17 December 2007

The Treaty Establishing the European Community (signed in 1957), (available at, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (promulgated in 2001) describe the European Union's general commitment to equality in employment.

In 1998, the Member States of the European Communities agreed upon the Treaty of Amsterdam which incorporated several new provisions in the Treaty Establishing the European Community establishing the following broad commitments to equality between men and women (articles 2, 3, 13 (6A), and 94 (100)) and specific guarantees of equality at work (articles 137 (118) and 141 (119)): 

  • Article 2 identifies the promotion of "equality between men and women" as a fundamental task of the Community.
  • Article 3(2) includes the elimination of gender inequalities among the Community objectives, strategies and actions. 
  • Article 13 requires Member States to take action to combat discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation.
  • Article 137 calls for Community to support Member States' actions to promote "equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work."
  • Article 141 encourages "measures providing for specific advantages in order to make it easier for the under-represented sex to pursue a vocational activity or to prevent or compensate for disadvantages in professional careers".

Protocol No. 14 to the Treaty Establishing the European Community includes the Agreement on Social Policy, an agreement that seeks to promote equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women at work.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which unlike the Treaty is not legally binding, guarantees the right to physical and mental integrity, the right to work, non-discrimination, equality between men and women "in all areas, including employment, work and pay," the right to "working conditions which respect [the worker's] health, safety and dignity," and the right to an effective remedy. The Charter was included in Part II of the draft constitutional treaty for the European Union, which was proposed in June 2003. The constitutional treaty was signed in October 2004, but was rejected by France and the Netherlands in 2005. A two-year “period of reflection” followed. In June 2007, at the request of the European Council, the Intergovernmental Conference drafted a Reform Treaty, which was approved during the informal European Council in Lisbon in October 2007 and was signed by the Member States in Lisbon on 13 December 2007. The ratification process will follow in the 27 member countries. The Reform Treaty incorporates much of the failed constitutional treaty, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If the new Treaty comes into force – which supporters anticipate will happen before the next European Parliament elections in June 2009 -- the Charter will become binding EU law.