EU Court Condemns Discriminatory Practice of Bulgarian Unit of Power Distributor CEZ
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg has ruled that the practice of the Bulgarian subsidiary of power distributor CEZ of placing electricity meters in districts inhabited predominantly by Roma higher than in other areas constitutes discrimination.
The CJEU issued an opinion in response to a request for a preliminary ruling from the Administrative Court Sofia City.
The Sofia-based court addressed the CJEU over a case involving the practice of power distributor CEZ of attaching electricity meters of final consumers in the Roma district of Dupnitsa at a height of approximately 6 meters, thereby making them inaccessible for visual checks, whilst elsewhere the same electricity meters are installed at a height of approximately 1.70 meters and are thus clearly visible to consumers.
The case was opened on the basis of a complaint of a natural person lodged in 2008 with the Bulgarian Commission for Protection against Discrimination against the practice.
The case was initiated by a woman, Ms. Nikolova, who complained that she was unable to read her meter.
According to the Luxembourg-based court, Nikolova, as the applicant in the main proceedings, may rely on the prohibition of discrimination based on ethnic origin even though she herself does not belong to the Roma ethnic group.
According to the court, the contested practice produces a humiliating environment for the persons concerned, from which predominantly the members of a certain ethnic group have to suffer.
"This is contrary to the fundamental values on which the European Union is founded (Article 2 TEU) and also runs counter to the thrust of the antidiscrimination directives (see in particular the prohibition of ‘harassment’ under Article 2(3) of Directive 2000/43)," the court declares.
According to the CJEU, the measure triggers general suspicion and encourages stigmatization of the population in the district of Gizdova mahala.
The court finds that placing electricity meters at a height of approximately 6 m is a relatively drastic measure, which affects all inhabitants of Gizdova mahala, even if they have not been guilty of any illegal interference with the electricity supply.
“The impression may therefore be created that all or at least many of the inhabitants of Gizdova mahala are embroiled in fraudulent practices, tampering or other irregularities in relation to their electricity supply,” the CJEU states.
According to the CJEU, there is a prima facie case of indirect discrimination based on ethnic origin.
According to the CJEU, “such a measure may be justified if it prevents fraud and abuse and contributes to ensuring the quality of the electricity supply in the interest of all consumers, provided that no other, equally suitable measures can be taken to achieve those aims, at a financially reasonable cost, which would have less detrimental effects on the population in the district concerned, and the measure taken does not produce undue adverse effects on the inhabitants of the district concerned, due account being taken of the fact that the threat of stigmatisation of an ethnic group appreciably outweighs purely economic considerations and the interest of final customers supplied with electricity in monitoring their individual energy consumption by means of a regular visual check of their electricity meters.”
According to CEZ Spokesperson Barbora Pulpanova, the electricity meters in Dupnitsa's Gizdova mahala were installed at the discriminatory height before the Czech company had set foot in Bulgaria.
She noted that the reason behind the installation of electricity meters at that height was to preserve the health and safety of the people who often used the appliances the wrong way.
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