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4. Equality in a Future Europe

NL presidency Conference  
Scheveningen (The Hague), 22 & 23 November 2004 
Contribution to the speakers’ corner by 
Joke SWIEBEL, former Member of the European Parliament, former Chairperson of the EP Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights. 
Last Friday and Saturday the Dutch presidency organized a conference on the fight against sexual orientation discrimination.  
I was honoured to be asked to preside over this conference, but less so, now I am asked to summarize these two days in two minutes. Diplomats would call it a challenge. 
The main message of this pre-conference to the meeting of today is the following.  
The European Union needs to develop a comprehensive policy against sexual orientation discrimination.  
Such a policy will have to comprise both a specific and a horizontal approach. 
It is obvious that the horizontal approach – tackling all forms of discrimination together in one overall policy-design – has many advantages: it generates a broader support, it gives better access to policy-makers and we can learn from our allies.  
But that should not be taken to mean that lesbian women, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people can be made invisible by dissolving them in a grand policy design.  
The LGBT citizens in Europe must feel proud to live in a European Union that speaks out for them and does so explicitly.  
Our pre-conference also agreed that the so-called ‘equality hierarchy’ in legislation has to be removed. The existing legal situation at EU level gives the wrong political message: some animals are more equal than others. We have to realize the same level and scope of protection for all grounds of discrimination. In the short run an extension of the EU anti-discrimination legislation to cover access to goods and services for all grounds under Article 13 would be a step in the right direction. We are very keen to learn what the ‘levelling-up’ exercise – announced by Commissioner Spidla – will bring. 
Mainstreaming the fight against sexual orientation discrimination will have to go beyond the area of social and employment policies. In the area of free movement, mutual recognition of all forms of marriages and partnership is one of the more pressing issues. 
Our conference focussed on capacity building. How can government officials, researchers, 
professionals and NGO’s work together to enhance their knowledge and their skills, mobilize resources and generate political support. 
One of the more concrete results of our conference was the formation of a network of officials 
from ministries and governmental agencies who are responsible for sexual orientation policies in the Member States. In addition, we welcomed the announcement that the UK Presidency in the second half of 2005 will organize the next EU conference on sexual orientation discrimination. In this way, be can begin a tradition, a tradition of visibly mainstreaming LGBT issues in all areas and all levels of EU policy-making 


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