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Why Cañete won’t be able to hide in Brussels

Gender equality in wages and other matters has always been in the European community’s DNA

It is possible that efforts by Esteban González Pons and other conservative leaders to reduce the “Cañete mistake” to a mere verbal anecdote, rather than admit that it was categorical gender discrimination, will find some sympathy in Spain. After all, this country is very willing to be European, but lacks a tradition in many European values.

However, it will be harder for Miguel Arias Cañete to be himself in Brussels without anybody noticing. There is a simple reason for that: gender equality has been in the European Union’s DNA since before it even existed. It was already there when we called it the European Economic Community.

The Treaty of Rome that gave birth to the EEC established, as early as 1957, the principle of equal pay for equal work for men and women (article 119). Right away, this concept was implemented in creative ways in various legal disputes involving labor and gender issues, thanks to the precedent set by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which opted for developing European legislation’s ability to expand into new fields.

The EU Court of Justice has handed down dozens of decisions on gender issues

Successive reforms of this treaty raised the content of these rulings to the highest regulatory level: in 1999, the Treaty of Amsterdam consecrated the principle of gender equality as a specific goal, paving the way for guidelines to fight discrimination.

The 2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union went even further, banning “any discrimination based on any ground such as sex” in its article 21, and establishing that equality “between women and men must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay” and that “the principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favor of the under-represented sex” (Article 23).

Before and after this, the EU Court of Justice has handed down dozens of decisions on gender issues, with an overwhelming majority of them adopting egalitarian views on layoffs, access to goods and services, insurance, vocational training, social security and maternity and paternity leaves, to mention just a few.

The 1957 Treaty of Rome established equal pay for equal work for men and women

The “Cañete mistake” also underscores something else that is far from anecdotal: that the creation of Europe, the expansion of European rights and the correction of national abuses is not just up to elected officials, but also to agencies such as the oft-forgotten Luxembourg court. It was this tribunal that undid abusive clauses in Spanish real estate leases, in its March 2013 ruling in the Mohammed Aziz case. It was also this court that recently eliminated the healthcare tax unlawfully being imposed on fuels.

The European Parliament is also expanding rights and political improvements. During its last term, it scored two major goals: an amendment to EU budgets, making them more flexible (it remains to be seen how this will be used: many candidates are keeping quiet on the issue); and greater social efficiency of the bank bailout.

With these tools, citizens exert an influence that is greater than it would initially seem. But it is still less than what is necessary.

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