The European Union is fighting the Battle of the Bulge in the legal forests of Luxembourg and Belgium. The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the top law court in the EU, this week considered the case of a 350 lb. Danish man, Karsten Kaltoft, who is claiming he was fired from his job as child caretaker with the town of Billard, Denmark for being obese. Lawmakers in Europe and Canada are watching the case closely since its outcome could pave the way for the EU to consider obesity to be a disability under the EUs Employment Equality Directive. Obesity has yet to be considered a disability under Canada’s Employment Equity Act of 1995. The United States already considers obesity to be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The case has cooked up a media frenzy in the European Union, especially in the UK, as commentators gorge on opinions about the EUs equal employment practices and the eating habits of overweight people. Carole Malone of the UK tabloid Mirror lashed out at Luxembourg “lunatics” who would consider over-burdening UK citizens with extra helpings of taxes for a newly categorized class of disabled persons. Her screed, worthy of a five-course meal, served up a menu of fatty opinions, calling obese people “architects of their own problems,” lazy, wallowing in self-pity and unwilling to be thin. Many commentators on UK Internet boards raised their glasses in toast to Malone’s smorgasbord of obese abuse.
The obesity epidemic has EU lawmakers scrambling for policy solutions. According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2010, over 53 percent of men and women in the EU are overweight, and approximately 20 percent of men and 23 percent of women are obese. Children are particularly affected. By WHO estimates, 1 in 3 eleven year old children in EU member states is overweight or obese, a childhood condition that often leads to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes later in life.
The fight for the European Union’s Battle of the Bulge has been brewing for some time. A ruling by the European Court of Justice last year expanded the definition of disability to include physical or mental impairments that prevents a person from doing their job. In that case, the court ruled that obesity was not a disability, but that the condition led to other impairments that qualify a person to be considered disabled. Advocates of equal employment and public health in the EU hope the European court finally puts the icing on the cake and declares obesity a disability. Often cited is the classification of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association.
Political criticism of European Union policies with heavy tax implications have so far come from belt-tightening UK independents who have long looked askance at Brussel’s rich soup of tax laden directives. UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage called the implications of the ruling “frightful nonsense” and added that obese people should just stop eating sugary snacks.
The Battle of the European Bulge has so far been fought between independently-minded UK commentators and European Union advocates for fair-minded employment practices. In whatever way the court rules, the family of European Union member states is certain to continue to bicker at the table.
By Steve Killings