Thursday

26th Apr 2018

Opinion

EU and Ukraine: too busy to protect gay rights?

  • The EU’s soft position is making it harder for pro-rights groups to lobby (Photo: compscigrad)

The new Ukrainian government has just made a u-turn on protecting gay rights and the European Commission is playing along.

The Ukrainian cabinet recently submitted a package of bills needed to implement the first phase of the EU visa-free travel procedure. A bill prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the workplace was not among them. For its part, the EU agreed that it is "not the right time".

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It is true the Ukrainian government has its hands full.

There is no money in the treasury, parliament is volatile, state workers are demoralised, and, above all there is a threat of war with Russia.

In these conditions, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has prioritised EU visas, the EU free trade agreement and protecting the Ukrainian mainland from Russia.

On 26 March, delegations from the European Commission and the European Parliament landed in Kiev to talk to the new political elite.

We do not know everything that was discussed. But EU officials later told Ukrainian LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) groups the bill on rights in the workplace is no longer needed to move from phase I to phase II on the visa-free procedure.

Instead, the government promised the EU a handful of things by way of compensation: clarifying that the Ukrainian constitution forbids any discrimination and boosting the power of the Ombudsman.

It also submitted bill 4581 – the "Draft Law on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine (concerning prevention and combating discrimination)" – to parliament on 27 March. This fiddles around with technical issues, like burden of proof, but does nothing to alter the Labour Code.

These developments have prompted debate.

The LGBT group Fulcrum published an official statement – "Bill of Rights" – which says: "Human rights can not be a matter of political bargaining. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be banned without any negotiations."

Its views have broad support in Ukrainian civil society.

Europe also spoke out. The director of Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based gay rights NGO, Evelyne Paradis, said the postponement of LGBT reforms in Ukraine "creates the impression that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are less important than others" and that "the EU runs the risks of undermining its key human rights principles".

The EU's soft position is making it harder for pro-rights groups to lobby.

The party of former PM Yulia Tymoshenko (which has a parliamentary majority) has already indicated it will not back a ban on discrimination in the workplace in case its rivals use this against them in the May presidential elections.

There is plenty of homophobia in Ukrainian society, and what we are seeing here is a new lease of life for an old problem.

Our leaders do not see gay rights in terms of alignment with international norms. They see it as a tool of political manipulation.

The former PM Mykola Azarov used to do it – he claimed the EU association agreement will force Ukraine to legalise gay marriage (not true). Russia is doing it – its propaganda juxtaposes liberal EU values versus orthodox Russian ones. Now, our new leaders are doing it too.

The consequences of the EU's actions in this area are deeper than they appear at first glance.

Homophobic politicians or other purveyors of hate speech can now claim the EU is happy to integrate with Ukraine as it is, discrimination and all.

What we need for this crucial bill to go through is for our leaders to say clearly and openly that in a normal country in the 21st century it cannot be legal to refuse someone a job because they are gay.

We must show that the post-Maidan Ukraine is different.

But instead of an open dialogue, we got a backroom deal in which the EU commission dropped gay rights for the sake of moving more quickly to phase II of visa-free travel.

In this context, we should ask ourselves, what is the price of human rights?

People who were hardened on the Maidan know the answer. The LGBT community in Ukraine knows it as well: They are priceless and non-negotiable. But how do we teach this to the EU?

The writer is the director of the Kiev-based pro-LGBT rights NGO, the All-Ukrainian Charitable Organisation

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

News in Brief

  1. UN expects over $4bn in pledges for Syria
  2. Commission wants more public data made available for reuse
  3. Study: Brexit will hit all European farmers
  4. European media face rise in 'verbal violence' from politicians
  5. Greenland PM to keep power despite poll slump
  6. Commissioner optimistic on FYROM name solution
  7. Italian court keeps NGO migrant rescue boat docked
  8. German Jews warned not to wear skullcap in public

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  11. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  12. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip

Latest News

  1. Whistleblowers could be enforcers of rule of law in Europe
  2. EU shelves Macron idea for 'European Darpa'
  3. Don't play EU 'games' with military HQs, Italian admiral says
  4. EU had a plan for Jordan - now it's time to make it work
  5. Time for EU to take charge of global health research agenda
  6. EU in race to set global Artificial Intelligence ethics standards
  7. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  8. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  5. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  8. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  9. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  10. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  11. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  12. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan