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22nd Sep 2019

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EU commission shows pride in gay rights rulebook

  • Gay couple at US rally. The EU commission gives the same health and pensions perks to married couples and "stable partnerships" (Photo: Fritz Liess)

The European Commission's internal gay rights policy has been described as "quite impressive" by campaigners. But activists would like to see more EU policing of homophobia in member states.

The commission, which employs around 25,000 people in Brussels, and which sees itself as a model "modern working environment" outlined its staffing policy in a statement prepared for EUobserver in June.

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The paper noted that rules forbid discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, with a number of bodies in place to combat prejudice: a "dedicated service within the human resource directorate" monitors good behaviour; "specifically-trained confidential counsellors" can step in to deal with cases of harassment; abuse can also trigger formal disciplinary sanctions.

The EU executive gives "regular" training on gay rights issues. It offers the same pensions and health perks to unmarried same-sex couples registered as a "stable partnership." A system of advisors on "practical difficulties" for gays and lesbians in the EU institutions - called Egalite - has also been up-and-running since 1993.

The commission's statement was prepared with reference to a questionnaire circulated to private firms by the Montreal, Canada-based International Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (IGLCC), which awards a yearly prize to the most gay-friendly company in the world. The outfit from 2011 onwards aims to include public bodies in its surveys as well.

"I was actually quite impressed by what they are putting on paper. I say putting on paper because, of course, the proof is in the pudding," IGLCC board member David Pollard told this website.

A commission spokesman, Michael Mann, when asked how many cases of misbehaviour the commission's special panels looked into in 2009, wrote in an email: "There has so far been no breach of the relevant applicable provisions of the staff regulations regarding unfair discrimination or harassment."

While it may be hard to believe that the EU institutions are that squeaky clean, a gay rights campaigner in the commission's sister establishment, the European Parliament, also indicated that homophobic incidents are rare in the Brussels bubble.

Asked to recall cases in recent times, Liberal group official Ottavio Marzocchi looked back to the parliament's previous term to remarks by a right-wing Polish deputy that gay sex acts are "abnormal ... unnatural."

The commission does not collect data on its employees' sexual orientation due to privacy concerns, so it is hard to estimate how many gay and lesbian staff work in Brussels.

The former British commissioner, Peter Mandelson, was one of the few openly gay senior EU officials. Emilio Colombo, the president of the EP from 1977 to 1979, is reported by leading Italian journalists to have later admitted that he is gay. The heads of the EU institutions today are all heterosexual, Christian Democrat men.

"The EU institutions are more than ready for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] leaders. Where else otherwise?" Mr Marzocchi said.

The IGLCC's Mr Pollard added that despite EU laws against discrimination in the workplace being put in place in 2000 and broader guarantees in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the EU authorities are fairly timid when it comes to enforcing standards in member states.

"I do not think that we can say that the EU Institutions are doing enough to forward LGBT visibility and awareness in the EU. They need to come down harder, including using sanctions where necessary, on those countries that flout existing laws," he said.

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