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17th Jan 2018

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EP chief faces questions after homophobic 'summit'

  • MEPs have sent a letter to president Tajani asking him to explain his role in an anti-gay summit that took place in the European Parliament. (Photo: European Parliament)

[Updated at 20.06] Anti-gay groups have hosted a summit at the European Parliament, raising questions about support by the institution's president.

The so-called Second Transatlantic Summit unfolded in the parliament on Thursday and Friday (27 and 28 April). It gathered lawmakers from around the world, including the European Parliament, and gave them an opportunity to exchange ideas on how to oppose same-sex marriages.

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The summit was organised under the auspices of the centre-right EPP group and the Political Network for Values, a global network of politicians that oppose marriage equality.

Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, was scheduled to speak at the event's opening ceremony. But Laima Andrikiene from Lithuania, an EPP MEP and member of the Political Network for Values, explained to the audience that Tajani cancelled his participation 15 minutes before the event because of a tight schedule.

Tajani was replaced by EPP vice-chair, Romanian MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu.

The summit raised questions from socialist, green, and radical-left MEPs, including group leaders Gianni Pittella, Philippe Lamberts, and Gabriele Zimmer. They wrote to Tajani prior to the event - when his name did not yet feature in the programme - to complain.

In a letter to the president dated 5 April, they noted that the event featured homo- and transphobic groups such as the International Organisation for the Family, a US-based group with members in Australia, Nigeria, Russia and the UK, and that another one, the Spanish CitizenGO, is currently under investigation for incitement of hatred after displaying transphobic messages on bus advertisements in Madrid.

They noted that the Political Network for Values "aims to keep sexual orientation out of human rights law, a principle in direct breach of the EU’s values of equality and respect for human dignity and human rights of all of its citizens".

The MEPs also said the event could be in breach of the parliament's house rules, as some of the participants had not signed up to the EU transparency register.

"We would urge you to closely monitor the events taking place within these buildings, in order to maintain vigilance against incitements of hatred," the letter said.

"We would like to take the opportunity to remember that the European Parliament is a place of inclusion and equality; it is a place to promote EU values of equality and human dignity. We hope that you will endeavour to prevent the future promotion of defamatory language from movements hosted in the parliament of which you are president", it said.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the parliament's liberal group, was also asked to sign but declined.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organisation monitoring extremists in the US, also wrote to Tajani to warn him of four groups scheduled to attend the summit - the Alliance Defending Freedom, Center for Family and Human Rights, Family Watch International, and the before-mentioned International Organisation for the Family.

Tajani never replied to the MEPs' request, according to a parliamentary source, who said that MEPs were considering sending another letter next week, asking the president to clarify his role in the event.

A member of Tajani's office told EUobserver on Friday that the president had never firmly confirmed his participation in the event and that he did not participate in any public gatherings during the entire week because he was busy preparing for Saturday's European Council.

Individual MEPs and groups have the right to organise events and assume full responsibility for the content and members they invite, the staffer said.

"If members don't apply with the rules governing the activities, the president has to check that, but he doesn't intend to restrict the independence given to them by their mandate," she explained, adding that individual events do not reflect the parliament's position on LGBT rights or other issues.

"Official stances are only decided by plenary or other official bodies, such as the conference of presidents, which gathers leaders of all the political groups," she said.

Asked about Tajani's stance on gay rights, the spokeswoman said the president was "the first" to condemn the recent news of concentration camps for gay men in Chechnya.

Before the 2014 elections, however, Tajani signed a pledge by the Italian foundation Novae Terrae, which defined family as the legal union between a man and a woman.

In 1996, he tabled a question to the European Commission, saying that a child conceived by LGBT parents was "certain to have serious psychological problems and experience major difficulties in being accepted as part of society".

He also noted that "the Church has adopted a position firmly opposing such "pseudo' families", and asked the commission what it would do to protect the child's "right to live a normal life".

The article was updated at 20.06 with the response of Tajani's office.

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Gay marriage was adopted in a snap vote at the German parliament on Friday. But lesbians and gays acquired this right after German chancellor Angela Merkel tried to sabotage the electoral campaigns of her opponents.

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