Brussels abandons plans to protect gays and lesbians
22.04.08 @ 09:26
The European Commission has abandoned its plans to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination under pressure from Germany.
An anti-discrimination bill against all forms of discrimination on the grounds laid out in Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty had been announced as part of the commission's work programme for 2008.
However, the European executive is now retreating to the safe grounds of focussing solely on disability protection.
The commission is afraid that more conservative member states will endanger the unanimity needed by member states.
In its first public interview on the subject, the commission confirmed to the BBC Parliament channel's Europe-specialist programme, The Record: Europe what gay rights campaigners and many MEPs had feared would happen.
"The commission would still prefer to have a 'horizontal' directive that covers all the discrimination grounds in all the areas that are not covered yet," said Jan Jarab of the commission's employment department in the interview.
"Having said that, we need to be realistic, and we have signals from some member states that they would not support such a horizontal directive and this, of course, is a problem because we need unanimity in council to get the proposal through.
He then said that this "means a directive that will be specific to disability, which of course is a discrimination ground that we can justify, referring to the new international convention on disabilities."
For discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, age and religion, recommendations will be produced, rather than a directive.
Gay rights campaigners are furious: "This is a huge step back," Juris Lavrikous of the International Lesbian and Gay Association – Europe told the EUobserver.
"We're extremely disappointed, as we've been working on this within our network for literally years, and we don't understand why the commission is afraid of taking on member states where such a move isn't popular.
"There have been so many other proposals that haven't been popular in certain member states – certainly such as over energy issues – and still directives have gone ahead.
Mr Lavrikous said that they understand Germany to be opposed not for socially conservative reasons, but due to opposition from business groups who feel that it would be costly for employers and service providers.
"At the same time, we feel that social conservatives are hiding behind these arguments, as really, the directive would hardly cost anything."
The Czech Republic is also known to be opposed, he said, while Sweden, Finland, Spain and the UK are strongly in favour.
"We don't know why the commission isn't pushing those member states who are in favour to speak out and encourage the other member states to get on board."
In expectation of such a move from the commission, UK Liberal MEP Liz Lynne launched a petition last Thursday to call on the commission and member states to bring forward a comprehensive, inclusive anti-discrimination directive.
The European Parliament has seven times called for an anti-discrimination bill protecting Europeans against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, with its social affairs committee earlier this month once again issuing such a call.
Conservative MEPs however are strongly opposed, while a 'horizontal' bill covering all forms of discrimination has support from the Liberals in the parliament, the Socialists, the Greens, as well as the far left. The European Trade Union Congress has also called on the commission to act.
A fortnight ago, the European Court of Justice ruled it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the realm of pension rights in countries where there exist civil partnerships for homosexuals.