Anti-gay lobby in Brussels linked to US neocons
By Philip Ebels
Lobbyists in the EU capital opposing gay rights are in close contact with US neo-conservative organisations, raising questions about where their money comes from. The lobbyists themselves deny any funding comes from overseas.
One such lobby group is European Dignity Watch, founded in 2010, advocating "life, the family and fundamental freedoms."
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According to the EU transparency register, it has an annual budget of €80,816 - all in the form of anonymous donations.
It rallies against abortion, euthanasia, but most ardently against gay rights. It accuses the European Parliament of pressuring member states into legalising same-sex marriage, and the European Commission of bias for hosting a pro-gay photo exhibition.
Its website provides no contact details. It lists four board members, one of whom - Sophia Kuby - is accredited for access to the European Parliament. A fifth member, Italian constitutional judge Marta Cartabia, is only mentioned in the organisation's official records.
Its president, Jorge Soley, is a well-known figure within the European Christian-conservative movement. He is the founder of the Fundacion Burke in Spain, a conservative think-tank, and one of four board members of the Center for European Renewal, based in The Hague.
That organisation, according to the country’s official register, is a pan-European "support fund" whose activities include "the acquisition and provision of funds" and whose goal is "the promotion of Western civilisation."
Also on the organisation's board - its treasurer - is Mark Henrie, senior vice-president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a US multi-million-dollar neo-conservative wealth fund.
The ISI, for its part, has close links and until recently shared a board member with the Heritage Foundation, the country's largest and most influential neo-conservative think-tank, whose logo has a prominent place on the website of the Fundacion Burke.
It has led MEPs and LGBT-activists to believe that American money is fuelling the anti-gay lobby in Brussels.
"We do suspect that," says Evelyne Paradis, director of ILGA-Europe, an organisation for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
"But we cannot prove anything because the level of transparency is very low," she adds.
For his part, Michael Cashman, British centre-left MEP and co-president of the parliament's LGBT intergroup, says he finds it "deeply worrying" that the organisation does not disclose the origin of its funding.
"[Its] proximity to neo-conservative funds and think-tanks leaves no doubt as to their raison d'être: they want to export the culture wars to Europe, along with an ultra-conservative agenda," he told EUobserver in an e-mail.
Soley, for his part, denies that either one of his organisations is being kept afloat by money from America.
"We would be glad to, but No. We are friends, we know each other. I have a beer with Mark Henrie when I see him in the states. But we receive no money from him," he told EUobserver from Barcelona, where he has a day job as a publisher of textbooks.
Instead, he says, European Dignity Watch is being paid for by "many small, anonymous donors."
Matthew Streit, a spokesperson for the Heritage Foundation, said that to his knowledge, it does not fund any organisations in Europe.
The ISI has not responded to e-mails or interview requests by telephone.
Do not, do too
Cross-Atlantic cosiness aside, the question of funding is nothing short of an information war.
Transparency activists, such as David Miller from UK-based pressure group Spinwatch, claim that over the years "there have been millions of US dollars pouring into conservative think-tanks in Europe."
"[The] Heritage [Foundation] has long played a key role in supporting conservative and anti-left initiatives in Europe," according to the group's related website Powerbase.
Conservatives in Europe, such as Andreas Kinneging, former chairman of the Center for European Renewal, say that such claims are "nonsense."
"That doesn't happen," he said. "The Americans have no interest in Europe. They regard it as a lost case."
One lobbyist who leaves little doubt about the origin of his pay-check is Vienna-based Roger Kiska, EU representative of the Alliance Defense Fund, a US network of lawyers "defending the right to hear and speak the Truth."
"We don't get all our funding from America," he said.
The organisation - which believes that "the homosexual legal agenda is one of the greatest threats to religious freedom" - is mostly involved in litigation, Kiska says, but also does "some advocacy."
One of his 'victories' is a proposed EU anti-discrimination law which continues to be blocked by a number of member states. "A lot of people did well," he says, not wanting to take the credit.
In any case, his advocacy work might have been given a boost in April, when he was elected - together with ILGA-Europe's Evelyne Paradis and four other NGO representatives - to the civil society advisory panel of the EU's fundamental rights agency.