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27th May 2016

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EU on gay rights: words or actions?

  • Reding: no roadmap, no pressure on Germany over anti-discrimination bill (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU lags in protecting the rights of sexual minorities, MEPs have said, summarising its policy as "words, not action."

The European Commission, for its part, says it is doing all it can, noting that it uses "actions, not words."

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"They [in the commission] are very good at words, but they lack in action. It is simply not enough," Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek, co-president of the European Parliament's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender)intergroup, told EUobserver in a recent interview.

EU fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding has on more than one occasion spoken out against homophobia. But Lunacek and her colleagues have long been calling on the commission to be more active.

"I think [Reding] is just not telling her people: Now let's do it," she noted.

Last May, eurodeputies endorsed a resolution asking - among other things - for a so-called roadmap on gay rights, laying out measures and targets for the coming years. Similar roadmaps exist for other minorities, including people with disabilities and Roma people, as well as for women.

Several member states have said they support the idea. But the commission, the one institution with the power to take the initiative, is reluctant.

"It is difficult to see how a roadmap – a paper document – could make concrete improvements in the everyday life of [LGBT] people," Mina Andreeva, Reding's spokesperson, told EUobserver by email.

"The commission is already pursuing a very active policy to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation," she added. "[Commission] vice-president Reding is a politician of action, not words."

She highlighted that Reding has "expressed her concerns" to Lithuania, which according to the parliament resolution limits the rights of LGBT people.

She also noted that the commission has "intervened" in Poland, which according to Brussels-based NGO Ilga-Europe denies civil status certificates to citizens who marry or register a partnership with their same-sex partner abroad.

In its 2011 report on the application of the EU charter of fundamental rights - which applies to EU law and prohibits discrimination including on the ground of sexual orientation - the commission says it "is using all the powers at its disposal to fight against [homophobia]."

Speaking at an LGBT event in May, EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom conceded that the executive "could probably do more," however.

In the year 2000, the EU banned the discrimination of minorities in employment situations. In 2008, it proposed a new law to ban discrimination in all spheres of life.

But a number of member states led by Germany continue to block it, reportedly for financial reasons: it would cost a lot to guarantee access to all public services to people in wheelchairs, for example.

The proposal is widely considered to be in a coma, if not dead.

"We have no indications that the German government is prepared to change its position," Andreeva said.

Her predecessor, Michael Newman, told EUobserver last year: "It's in the deep freeze. There's no consensus in the council, so it's not moving at all ... these things happen.”

Earlier this year, Danish presidency spokesperson Jacob Alvi told EUobserver he is not expecting much progress during the six months of his country's role at the helm.

On Monday (11 June), near the end of its mandate, he said: "Nothing has changed."

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