Thursday

22nd Feb 2018

Opinion

Why doesn't the EU do more to protect gay rights?

  • Conchita Wurst, a trans-gender singer, in front of the EU parliament last year (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Numbers. Percentages. Figures.

From the widely unpredictable UK general election result and its now infamous exit poll to the sobering reflections across Europe marking the end of WWII - the past week has been full of surprising numbers.

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.

In Montenegro last weekend, as part of the European IDAHOT Forum 2015, I launched ILGA-Europe’s new Rainbow Europe package. Our very own annual collection of facts and figures, wich summarises the legal and policy situation for LGBTI people in Europe.

I cannot possibly list all the headlines here; the detailed country information is now available on www.rainbow-europe.org. However, one number has stuck in my mind over the past few days: 52 percent.

On our annual Rainbow Map, we rank 49 countries on a sliding scale ranging from full equality (100%) to gross violations of human rights (0%). The European Union only scores 52 percent.

The union, whose core values are human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, barely registers above 50%. Why is that? Why is the EU, formally a leading light for equality, languishing behind so many of its composite members?

I find myself struggling to answer that question.

Historically, the EU has been the driver of many advances for LGBTI equality. The evolution comes from the Treaty of Amsterdam’s anti-discrimination protection on the ground of sexual orientation to the equality mainstreaming required as part of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union is very encouraging.

EU court cases such as P. v. S and Cornwall County Council were instrumental in safeguarding people from unfair treatment because of their gender identity.

From 2009-2014, the European Parliament has adopted 115 reports or resolutions which referred to sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBT people who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity can now claim asylum everywhere in Europe because of the EU - the EU has a proud tradition of standing up for the human rights of LGBTI people.

Recent shift

In recent years, there has been a perceptible shift away from EU-instigated change. Now national governments have taken up the mantle and started to implement legislation to safeguard against discrimination.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not complaining about that.

Moves to strengthen protection for LGBTI people across Europe are obviously very welcome. Progressive laws initiated by proactive national governments are great news for the LGBTI people living in those countries.

But all of this comes with a huge proviso. The advances made at national level should not be happening in a vacuum. The fact that regional change is occurring does not mean that the institutions can become complacent.

By having the member states fill the legislative gap, the EU runs the risk of creating a two tier system of protection for LGBTI people within its borders.

The EU cannot abdicate its responsibility to push for greater equality simply because member states are taking more initiative. Once a juggernaut for equality improvement through equal treatment directives, the EU has seemingly ground to a halt.

This critique is not coming from a position of bitterness or scepticism.

Quite the opposite: As head of a European equality organisation who has lived in Brussels for years, I have a personal belief in the potential of the European Union as well as a professional interest in it.

The LGBTI community are long-time supporters of the European project too, as they have witnessed its transformative power first hand.

This is why our trepidation is so concerning and telling. If the support of staunch constituencies, such as the LGBTI community, is wavering, where does that leave the EU?

Not naive

We are not naive or overly idealistic either. ILGA-Europe and our member organisations are well aware of the limits of EU powers.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the EU infringe on the principle of subsidiarity. But we have to stop wringing our hands and imagining that the EU institutions are powerless. Making people’s lives better and protecting the vulnerable is not beyond their imagination. They have done it before and they can do it again.

Interested friends and journalists often ask me about the marriage equality debates going on all over the continent, wondering why the EU isn’t doing more to encourage full civil marriage rights.

This discussion neatly encapsulates what we mean about the EU’s unmet potential. The European Union does not have competency to legislate directly on family related issues, so naturally decisions about who can get married will continue to be defined by member states on an individual basis.

But the EU does have the power to protect LGBTI children from bullying in schools.

The EU does have the ability to guard LGBTI people against hate crime and hate speech.

The EU can ensure that families from member states which recognise them are not deprived of their civil status when entering another member state with no such recognition.

The EU does have the potential to stop discrimination based on sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.

Sadly, the European Union is simply not doing this.

Why not?

The real question we are left with is “why not?”.

Just as we expect national governments to exercise the leadership required to progress on our Rainbow Map from year to year, we expect EU institutions to do the same.

We know what needs to happen, what actions make a difference for LGBTI people, and in fact for the benefit of everyone in our societies. Change is possible and doesn’t need to take generations. We have no excuses anymore.

Evelyne Paradis is director of ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO which promotes human rights for LGBTI people

Luxembourg PM marries gay partner

Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel put himself in the history books on Friday by becoming the first EU government leader to marry someone of the same sex.

Focus

Limited breakthrough for Italian gay rights

The Senate approved a bill recognising same-sex unions, but political manoeuvres led prime minister Matteo Renzi to scrap the green light for gay adoption.

Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme

Growth predictions are positive, exports increasing, unemployment dropping and credit-ratings up, says the head of Greece's Syriza delegation to the European Parliament. Now the government in Athens is looking to design its own reform programme.

Analysis

We are not (yet) one people

Talks on the next EU budget will start on Friday. Brussels wants to do much more than before – and needs a lot more money. But arguing about funds won't be enough.

News in Brief

  1. Report: EU to increase sanctions on Myanmar
  2. Juncker 'worried' by Italian elections
  3. EU migration to UK at lowest since 2012
  4. MEP Andrieu will chair parliament pesticide committee
  5. Juncker's right-hand man warns of 'institutional blockage'
  6. Greek parliament to open probe on PMs and EU commissioner
  7. May gathers Brexit ministers to hammer out UK position
  8. Tajani asks Juncker for all EMA Brexit relocation documents

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU leaders to kick off post-Brexit budget debate
  2. Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme
  3. Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?
  4. Poland and Greece broke EU environment laws, rules court
  5. Dutch MPs vote on ending 'Ukraine-type' referendums
  6. Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress
  7. UK seeks flexible transition length after Brexit
  8. Commission defence of Barroso meeting leaves 'discrepancies'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  2. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  4. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  5. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  6. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  9. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  11. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  12. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission