Downgrading the EU: Same-sex marriages and political reluctance

The United States does not discriminate, does Europe want to follow suit?

Will Europe take after the United States? Source: East Book

By excluding the Greek crisis from news headlines, there is undoubtedly one story that dominated the media over the last few weeks, whether being printed, broadcasted or Facebook: the historical ruling by the US Supreme Court which, ironically, bans banning same-sex marriages.

The rainbow-coloured profile pictures must have had an impression on the European Commission. For the first time ever, its First Vice-President Frans Timmermans called for EU-wide recognition of same-sex marriages. This direct involvement in an area which is viewed as highly politically sensitive, either to the strong Catholic Centre and South, or to the Orthodox East, may have to do either with a feeling of legitimacy gained after the appointment of President Juncker through European Elections, or for a sense of European moral superiority in the area of Human Rights.

Same-sex marriage legislation was introduced in an exponential number of countries starting right here in Europe with the Netherlands in 2001. Recent events are a testimony to how far it has evolved in a short period of time, with the historical referendum in Ireland and Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel becoming the EU’s first government leader to marry his same-sex partner.

The EU has always spearheaded the respect of human rights in the world, in the limited fashion it can, which includes the right to live free of oppression targeted at one’s sexual identity. However, despite the pride emanating from this perceived and probably self-constructed pedestal, the reality is that the EU is far from becoming the tolerant society that would justify its scolding of other states around the world for their mistreatment of sexual minorities.

Given a deeper glance, the EU’s intervention is superficial at best, with little impact. The European Commission has adopted two anti-discrimination directives – the Race Equality Directive implementing the principle of equal treatment irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, and the Framework Employment Directive prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. However, they still do not cover social protection, healthcare, education and access to goods and services, areas in which discrimination against the LGBTI community persists.

Christos, a Greek gay activist told us that during a gay-pride rally in Poland in 2008 the tension was palpable, and people started throwing rocks and eggs, despite the presence of families with children. In Greece, the problems intensified with the onset of the economic crisis. The gay area of Athens was once considered a “hip” place to be in, while today people shy away from it, regardless of their sexual orientation.

To put things into perspective, according to a report by the EU’s own Agency for Fundamental Rights, 46 % of LGBT people suffer discrimination episodes on a daily basis. Almost 90 % of such acts go undeclared, simply because there are no tools to adequately deal with them. Matters get even worse if we take into account that EU and most national legislation, if existing at all, take into account sexual orientation, and not sexual identity, thus excluding transgender and inter-sex people.

The Commission tried to tackle these problems with the ‘EU Directive implementing the principle of equal treatment’ back in 2008 – immediately supported by the European Parliament – which was blocked in the Council by the Member States ever since.

When asked about the reasons why there is no movement on this front, Italian MEP Daniele Viotti stated “Member States always use two excuses: the EU lacks competency in the matter and that its implementation would bring unbearable costs. But the reasons are purely political, not wanting to face national electorates with the issue.”

Given the extreme diversity in national legislation on anti-discrimination – if any – the Commission is trying to circumnavigate the states by reaching directly to the civil society, an old trick in the Commission’s pocket. When questioned by MEPs during a hearing held at the European Parliament, Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality stated that “putting it on black and white” this year might not lead anywhere, and it is far better to just engage the NGO’s on the ground directly.

Christos agrees: “The framework is there. But from a top-down approach it doesn’t work. You need to have an NGO that will have an action in the Member State and will be able to say “what is happening to you is an infringement of your European rights as a European citizen”’.

The method of circumnavigation however does not even guarantee results – some member states, such as the Eastern European states still lack a civil society strata that would be capable of bringing about such a big social change. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the legal framework created by the Member State will be adequate, and with no superior legislation there will be no grounds of appeal by those citizens whose rights are not protected by their own state.

Unfortunately, this situation is once again a painful demonstration of the extent to which we have come to live in an EU of budgets and statistics and not in one of values due to a lack of political will by our national governments, for there can be no possible cost, competency or cultural justification for European citizens being discriminated against simply because of who they are.

 

Andrei Geica

Andrei Geica

Western Europe Team at InPRA
Andrei Geica was born in Romania and has lived in Italy, London, Athens and Brussels. He considers himself a European Citizen.

After obtaining his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations cum Laude he went on studying Politics and Government in the European Union, obtaining a Master's degree with Distinction from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

After working for the European Parliament in Information Campaigns, organising events and strategic communication regarding the institution's work in the field of Human Rights, he is now engaged with Dods Parliamentary Communications, providing EU legislative monitoring.
By joining InPRA he hopes to direct his passion and unique vantage point towards all who are interested in in-depth analyses of EU affairs
Andrei Geica