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2004-10-29

3. The European Equality Agenda - Where now.

Panel Discussion on ‘The European Equality Agenda – where now?’,  
ILGA-Europe Annual Conference, Budapest, 29 October 2004. 
 
Summary of the speech delivered by  
Joke SWIEBEL, Former member of the European Parliament, former Chair of the EP Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian rights. 
 
 
Where do we stand? 
LGBT issues in the EU are in a state of schizophrenia. 
 
On the one hand:  
Gay and lesbian rights top the political agenda of the EU (Cf. the EP Hearing of the incoming Commissioner Buttiglione and the postponement of the vote in the EP). 
Let’s count our blessings; gay rights have now for weeks dominated the EU news.  
It is not possible any more to deny that gay rights are human rights; even the most conservative MEPs feel forced to explain they also hold that view. 
It is not longer possible for the EU to deny that fighting discrimination against gays and lesbians belongs to their core business. This is a political fact that we must count as a victory. 
 
On the other hand:  
· EU-wide legal protection against sexual orientation discrimination is far from sufficient, is lagging behind and is less comprehensive than the protection against other types of discrimination. This is the infamous ‘equality hierarchy’. The implicit political message is that some animals are more equal than others. 
· Transposition and implementation of EU legislation against discrimination in the member states is lagging behind. With only one civil servant working on monitoring and preparing infringement procedures, one may doubt the real priority this issue is been given inside the Commission. 
· Gays and lesbians are still second-class EU citizens when it comes to such things as  
free movement inside the EU, recognition of their partnerships rights, family reunification and the like. This is undermining the very quintessence of the Union. 
· There is no consistent integration of the equality dimension in EU’s external policies. Only one example: the conclusion of the Association Agreement with in Egypt in 2001, despite the persistent persecution of gays in that country. (More than 80 countries in the world still criminalize same-sex relations; many of them are good friend of the EU.)  
 
In other words, the EU suffers from ‘double speak’. There is an enormous credibility gap, i.e. a gap between symbolic politics and legislation in place and practical policies implemented. 
 
Today in Rome the European Constitution will be signed. Many speakers will call the EU again a ‘community of values’. But this rhetoric will endanger the credibility of the Union – and thereby the Union itself, and the political capital of all who have invested in it – if nothing is done to fulfil these expectations.  
 
In his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on Tuesday 27 October, the new President of the European Commission, Mr.Barroso has made promises. 
We will hold him to these promises. He cannot forget about them the moment Mr. Buttiglione will be gone as a candidate. 
Then Barroso would be exposed as an opportunist, who does not believe in what he says and who was only playing games. 
Let’s look into Barroso’s four promises en see whether they could help to bridge the credibility gap. Mr. Barroso promised  
 
1. To create a Group of Commissioners responsible for fundamental rights, anti-discrimination and equal opportunities; 
2. To establish an European human rights agency; 
3. To replace the anti discrimination directives adopted in 2000 and extend them to all forms of discrimination; 
4. To step-up action against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia and to re-launch negotiations on the framework decision against racism blocked in the Council. 
 
The first two are old hat. The EU Human Rights Agency was already decided by the European Council in December 2003. The Groups of Commissioners idea is not new either. But repeating cannot do any harm, so these two ideas are welcome.  
But let us now have a look at the third and the fourth promises Mr. Barroso made. 
 
Ad 3.  
This promise is rather vague and the formulation is (partly) wrong.  
But let’s assume that the intention is good. Mr. Barroso admitted that the Directives adopted in 2000 have a limited scope and he announced new legislation to repair that.  
We cannot interpret this promise otherwise than that Mr. Barroso has told us he wants to end the equality hierarchy. 
We must praise this promise and praise Mr. Barroso, but also hold him to account and see to it that he sticks to his words. 
 
Ad 4 
This is an interesting promise. (BTW, the problem was not the Commission, but the Council). 
But also in this piece of draft legislation there is an equality hierarchy. We must see how this framework decision can be extended to acts of homophobia ! 
 
Bur Mr. Barroso’s promises are not enough. 
If he is really serious about fighting sexual orientation discrimination, more is needed. 
 
· Deploy more human and financial resources.  
(To begin with EC staff, but also more ear-marked budgets for the fight against sexual orientation discrimination in the new Community Programmes, like PROGESS.) 
 
· Move the partnership issue forward, in order to realise a really mutual recognition of all sorts of marriages and non-marital relationships between all member states; 
 
· Integrate gay rights as an human right issue into all EU foreign policies. 
Make this issue into an EU priority at the next session of the UN Commission for Human Rights. 
 
Only then can the credibility gap be closed 
 
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