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28th Aug 2016

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EU to sponsor gay rights boat, upsetting Hungary

  • There's no information yet on what the EU-sponsored boat will look like (Photo: Bob Lefevere)

The European Commission is, for the first time ever, to take part in a gay pride event by sponsoring an EU boat in a flotilla in Amsterdam in summer.

It is part of a new PR and legislative project warmly welcomed by most EU countries on Monday (7 March).

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  • The Amsterdam Pride event, which takes place each summer, is among the biggest of its type in Europe (Photo: Isabelle Puaut)

But Hungary doesn’t like the initiative and did not sign up to a statement endorsed by the 27 other member states.

The commission itself also appears to be lukewarm about it.

The EU boat will be one of 80 at the event, which takes place at the end of July. Other participants are to include a boat on the theme of gay athletes sponsored by German sportswear firm Adidas, a Moroccan boat, and a Ukrainian boat carrying a national pop star, Kamaliya.

Danny de Vries, the Amsterdam Gay Pride spokesman, told EUobserver the EU’s application was selected in an open competition.

He said the winning ideas best conveyed the message that “people should be proud of who they are and free to love who they want to love.”

He said Amsterdam Pride this year has the larger status of a Europride event and that it was a “good coincidence” that it comes shortly after the Dutch EU presidency, which ends on 1 July.

De Vries said the commission told organisers it is “the first time” but also “the last time” that it will take part in such an event.

He indicated they chose the EU entry despite not knowing what the boat will look like. “I have no information on whether the commissioner will be on it or not,” De Vries said, referring to Vera Jourova, a Czech politician who is the EU’s top official on justice issues.

The boat is part of a commission action plan on gay rights that was adopted last year.

Other actions include reviving by 2019 an old legal proposal on equal treatment for sexual and other minorities on access to goods and services.

But the gay pride boat appears to have a low place in Jourova’s agenda.

When contacted by EUobserver, the commission’s office in The Hague had no information about it. When asked what the boat would look like or why the commission would not take part in other pride events, Joureva’s spokesman also had no information.

Hungarian sovereignty

Hungary dislikes Joureva’s action plan.

The Dutch EU presidency had hoped to formally endorse her project at a meeting of social affairs ministers in Brussels on Monday.

But Hungary vetoed the statement because, it said, this form of EU promotion of gay rights threatened its sovereignty.

“Hungary could not support the document on the rights of LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex] persons - exclusively prepared by the commission - at the Council meeting in its present form due to the fact that serious concerns related to the sovereignty of the member states were raised,” Dora Bokay, a spokeswoman for Hungary’s EU mission told EUobserver.

Two Dutch ministers told press they were “disappointed” by Budapest.

Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based gay rights NGO, also said it “would have much preferred to have seen full unanimity.”

But it welcomed the EU group-of-27 message. It said that it “breathes life” into Joureva’s plan and that it shows most EU capitals want “practical progress sooner rather than later.”

Hungary isn’t the only EU member which has held back the commission on gay rights.

German U-turn?

Germany has for a long time said No to the equal treatment directive on goods and services which the commission first proposed 16 years ago.

It has one of the more gay-friendly national jurisdictions in Europe.

But Berlin had said the directive would impose too high a cost on small businesses, such as bars and cafes, which would be forced, among other provisions, to install wheelchair access.

Asked by EUobserver if its decision to undersign Monday’s informal communique meant a U-turn on the equal treatment law, the German mission to the EU declined to comment.

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