Wednesday

18th Sep 2019

Focus

Fears for LGBTI staff at Brexit relocation agencies

  • 'EU legislation doesn't provide absolute legal certainty' about what will happen to staff members of EU agencies that move to a country without gay marriage (Photo: Tom The Photographer)

Staff members at the two London-based EU agencies who are in a same-sex marriage or registered partnership have "no legal certainty" that they will retain their rights after the agencies move out of London, according to the European department of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (Ilga-Europe).

The two agencies, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA), need a new home elsewhere in the EU because the United Kingdom is poised to leave the bloc after March 2019.

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  • Commenting on the gay community in the Croatian capital, Zagreb mayor Bandic said he did not 'share their point of view' (Photo: zelle duda)

Of the 27 remaining EU member states, 21 countries are a candidate to host one or both agencies.

Four candidate countries – Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia – do not offer registered partnerships for same-sex couples, said Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director at Ilga-Europe.

Latvia and Lithuania are the other EU countries where registered partnerships do not exist.

So what happens to the rights of LGTBI staff if the EMA moves to Bratislava, Bucharest, Sofia, or Warsaw, or if the EBA moves to the Polish capital?

"The problem is that there is no clear-cut answer, that is purely because EU legislation doesn't provide absolute legal certainty," said Hugendubel.

EU citizens have freedom of movement, so their personal rights will not be affected, but what if the same-sex partner of a staff member is from outside the EU?

The relevant piece of legislation – the 2004 freedom of movement directive – gives rights to an EU citizen's "spouse", without defining if that includes a same-sex partner.

"The freedom of movement directive refers to 'spouse' and at the time there was a clear decision made, because family law is a national competence, that they don't want to define that any further," said Hugendubel. (In EU circles, the anglified French word 'competence' refers to purview or jurisdiction.)

"Four [of the six EU countries without registered partnership] have said they do recognise the freedom of movement for same-sex couples. Poland and Slovakia have clearly said they don't," Hugendubel told EUobserver.

But according to Slovak health minister Tomas Drucker, there should be no problem.

He told EUobserver that he feared people had misconceptions about Slovakia, as if its citizens did not like LGTBI people.

"If we have no legislation for the partners of the same gender, that's true, we don't have [that]. But once you have your partner, it doesn't matter from which gender, and you come to Slovakia, you have the same rights [as] the people from the different gender," said Drucker.

Asked to clarify, a spokeswoman for the Slovak EU embassy in Brussels confirmed that "it should be clearly understood that yes, the freedom of movement directive does allow LGBTBI staff of EMA - or any other EU citizen, for that matter - to move into and live in Slovakia under the same conditions as married couples of different sex".

If that is the case, then "great", said Ilga-Europe's Hugendubel. She said the Slovak government had previously not given any "very clear statement" on it.

(Photo: Council of the European Union)

A spokeswoman for Poland's EU embassy in Brussels, asked to comment, said the freedom of movement directive "regulates only the administrative aspects of EU citizens' rights to move and reside within the EU".

"It does not regulate issues related to adoption, inheritance, etc – those issues rest within the member states' competences," she said.

She also stressed that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU confirmed rules on marriage and family are "within member states' remit" - ignoring this website's question if Poland saw the word 'spouse' in the directive as gender neutral.

Whether the word spouse in the freedom of movement directive applies to partners in a same-sex relationship, is a topic which the Court of Justice of the European Union is currently investigating.

The sexual orientation of the around 1,100 staff members at the two EU agencies is information which the agencies do not collect.

However, the press office of the EMA told EUobserver that the agency is "proud of its diverse workforce and embraces people to work for the agency no matter their gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation".

"Our diversity contributes to our strength and excellence as an institution," it said.

Sensitive issue

The issue can be a sensitive one.

At a presentation in Brussels of Croatia's bid to host the EMA in Zagreb, this website asked about the country's constitution, which states that marriage is defined as between a man and a woman.

When this website asked what the Croatian officials would say to gay EMA staff members, and asked if it is correct that it would be illegal for them to marry their partner there, several audience members got involved in the discussion.

"It's not illegal," several of them said, with someone saying "you can get married", and another adding: "You don't know about Croatia."

Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic said, through an interpreter, that Croatia has the option of registered partnership, which gives gay couples the same rights as straight couples.

Different 'point of view'

"I have led the capital of Croatia for 17-and-a-half years. Gay associations, gay people enjoy all the rights that everyone else does," said Bandic.

He added he has met many members of the gay community and helped them organise events.

"I have to be honest and say that I do not share their point of view, and it would be hypocritical if I led their annual parade. I do not do that. [But] I am there for them."

"Although I may not share their point of view, I do enjoy spending time, being friends with members of the gay community. I like to talk to them, I like to have coffee with them occasionally. They are warm and nice people," said the Zagreb mayor.

The decision on the future home of the EMA and EBA will be taken by foreign affairs and EU affairs ministers on 20 November.

Ilga-Europe did not want to give ministers any voting advice. But the lobby group said it hoped the debate would increase "marriage equality" for all in the bloc.

Read more on EU agencies in EUobserver's 2017 Regions & Cities Magazine.

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EU ministers will decide on the future location of two London-based EU agencies on Monday. In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies.

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