LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

No ifs or buts – time for the EU to show where it stands on LGBTI equality

A set of conclusions on LGBTI equality adopted by European social affairs ministers yesterday (16 June 2016) have been received with very mixed emotions by ILGA-Europe.

This is the first time that the Council of the European Union approved LGBTI-specific conclusions that refer to equality within the European Union. That progress, achieved under the Dutch Presidency’s leadership, is welcomed by ILGA-Europe. It sends out a strong signal that EU member states are committed to practical progress. On the other hand, the content of the conclusions themselves raise significant concerns.

ILGA-Europe’s Executive Director Evelyne Paradis commented: “The adoption of the Council conclusions is a finally a clear confirmation at the highest level that EU member states are committed to   working together on promoting LGBTI rights across the EU and beyond. It is a strong call to the EU institutions that they can stop being cautious in standing up for LGBTI rights; they have the backing of member states to really step up their work in this area.”

The conclusions set out a series of goals to be achieved by the various EU institutions, agencies and member states. The text includes a very problematic reference to member states working with the EU to advance LGBTI equality while “fully respecting the Member States' competences, national identities and constitutional traditions”.

On the face of it, this text appears innocuous. But as ILGA-Europe and our national members are all too aware, this is exactly the sort of justification often used by governments opposed to equality to resist the introduction of laws to protect LGBTI people. Instead of advancing human rights, this language is being used to undermine the rights of minority groups in Europe.

Another point of concern is that the Council conclusions fail to acknowledge the instruments the EU already has to protect trans people based on EU case law, despite the fact that the title of the conclusions mentions LGBTI equality.

The danger of allowing latent discrimination, homophobia and transphobia to exist unopposed has been all too obvious over the past week. The European Union and national governments must take real, public and swift steps to protect the fundamental rights of LGBTI people in Europe. Indeed Lodewijk Asscher, Netherlands' vice Prime Minister and President of the Council said that “…It is important that Europe shows where it stands…” in a press statement last night

“Now more than ever, the EU’s institutions and member states must show the LGBTI community that they are willing to stand alongside them in the face of intolerance. These Council conclusions must be a living document that guides their work for all LGBTI people, without any ifs or buts.” Evelyne Paradis stated.

Discussions on the conclusions to advance LGBTI equality at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) meeting were coordinated under the Dutch Presidency. 

The conclusions were originally discussed at an earlier EPSCO meeting in March; at that point 27 member states supported the text.