Poland and Hungary have infuriated LGBTI rights supporters across Europe. Officials from the two countries insisted on the removal of ‘LGBTIQ’ from a common European Statement.
It is not the first time the two countries have tried to exert conservative influence over European Union language.
This latest move saw them insisting on altering a joint statement from the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO). The council is basically made up of EU employment and social affairs ministers. It meets four times a year. The most recent meeting was yesterday in Brussels, Belgium.
EPSCO Council Conclusions now just refer to ‘gender equality, youth and digitalization’. Before Poland and Hungary’s intervention, it had also mentioned ‘LGBTIQ’.
Poland and Hungary anger Austria and others
Austria is currently overseeing the Presidency of the European Council. Following complaints from other countries, pro-LGBTI rights Austria re-inserted the reference to LGBTIQ, but merely as a ‘Presidential conclusion’. This does not carry the same weight as a council conclusion.
The Dutch minister for social affairs and employment, Wouter Koolmees, was among those to criticize the move by Poland and Hungary.
‘LGBTIQ inclusion and equality are core values of our European Union. This is where I draw the line. We will never compromise our principles. This is not up for discussion and should have never been an issue for any member state. So I am happy that the reference is back in the text. Although I do regret we were not able to adopt them as Council conclusions.’
In further response, 19 EU countries signed a common paper yesterday pledging support for LGBTI rights. They call on the EU to continue to ensure full protection of LGBTI rights.
Although not legally binding, the paper calls on the European Commission to follow up on its current list of EU actions and adopt a strong, EU-wide LGBTI strategy.
Malta coordinates response
The Maltese government drew up the pro-LGBTI paper. Although a tiny, traditionally Catholic country, Malta has advanced greatly in respect to LGBTI rights in recent years. It is now widely regarded as having the most progressive LGBTI rights in Europe – including bans on so-called conversion therapy
The other countries to sign the paper are: Czech Republic, Italy, France, Slovenia, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Greece, UK, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, and Cyprus.
‘It was very reassuring to see a majority of member states drawing a line and speaking out clearly and strongly about the fact that taking out a reference to LGBTIQ people as protected group is unacceptable,’ said ILGA-Europe’s Executive Director Evelyne Paradis.
‘We would like to thank all member states who spoke out and stopped this attempt that would have marked a clear step backwards from EU treaty obligations and agreed text within the EU institutions.’
In relation to Poland and Hungary’s attempts to remove references to LGBTIQ, ILGA-Europe’s Advocacy Director Katrin Hugendubel said, ‘The EU cannot be taken hostage by two countries and be forced to dismantle agreed non-discrimination standards.’