Wednesday

11th Dec 2019

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".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

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

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

European shipping's dirty secret

As the EU launches its flagship Green Deal, the Greens call for shipping emissions to be included in carbon targets. Ships carrying goods to and from the UK emitted more CO2 than all the cars in Britain's 15-largest cities.

Does Malta's Labour Party now belong in S&D?

The Maltese Labour Party is a curious creature. No minister, MEP, MP, president, or former president has yet criticised Joseph Muscat publicly and outright over the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs protest against PM Babis over EU subsidy 'fraud'
  2. EU disbursed €2.7bn for Turkey refugees
  3. UK ports set to host EU border checks for Northern Ireland
  4. EU puts tech giants in crosshairs
  5. Faroe Islands under pressure to chose Huawei
  6. Hungary asked to apologise after council leak
  7. MEPs: Finnish budget proposal 'impossible to implement'
  8. EP committee supports 'Future of EU Conference'

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us