On Thursday (12 November) Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, launched the first ever strategic initiative to ensure the rights and equality of LGBTQ+ people in the EU. The plan was set in motion after a year of increasing uncertainty in EU member states such as Hungary and Poland. 

Equality and non-discrimination are core values and fundamental rights in the EU, enshrined in its Treaties and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights with the majority of Europeans polled believing in the values of the EU: 76% of EU citizens said lesbians, gays, and bisexuals should have equal rights to heterosexuals, up from 71% in 2015.

Flag burning in Hungary (2019).

The commission acknowledges the strides of progress made in recent years, yet still notes that 43% of those polled within the EU have experienced forms of discrimination, compared to 37% in 2012- it’s believed that the covid-19 crisis has distracted the commission from adequately responding to infringements on LGBTQ+ rights in Eastern and Central Europe in the past year. 

The strategy outlines the challenges facing LGBTQ+ Europeans in some countries and has set out a five year plan to tackle them. The scope of the strategy will include clarifying what constitutes hate speech, ensuring physical safety, building inclusive societies and planning to recognise same-sex parenthood in cross-border situations.  

“Everyone should feel free to be who they are – without fear or persecution. This is what Europe is about and this is what we stand for.”

Vera Jourová

The new strategy sets to make homophobic hate speech an “EU crime”, giving the union more responsibility in reprimanding nation states that espouse such views. 

As legislation currently stands, there is no legal protection or guarantee that domestic adoptions lawfully carried out in one EU Member State will be recognised in another. This means that there is no guarantee – neither for the child, nor the adopter – that the status of adoption and the legal consequences thereof will be recognised if the family exercises its right to free movement within the EU.

This puts LGBT households at a greater risk of financial hardship as their EU right to freedom of movement will be hindered by legal fees depending on individual EU state laws. The strategy also notes the level of emotional distress that lack of recognition can cause society’s most vulnerable children. 

Same sex parenting is not recognised in all member states.

Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová said: “Everyone should feel free to be who they are – without fear or persecution. This is what Europe is about and this is what we stand for. This first strategy at EU level will reinforce our joint efforts to ensure that everyone is treated equally.”

“Family law is member states’ competence, we fully respect it,” Jourová said. “However, when applying national law, member states must respect their international human rights obligations and applicable EU law. Member States should also respect the fundamental values on which the Union is based, including equality and human rights.”

Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová.

Speaking of the anti-LGBT ideology which drove the Polish election and recent proposed constitutional amendments in regards to adoption in Hungary, Jourová noted “This belongs to the authoritarian playbook and it does not have a place in the EU.”

The news of the strategy comes as Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo lamented the Poland Independence Day marches on Wednesday, which resulted in households displaying solidarity with the LGBTQ community by flying rainbow flags being set ablaze by far-right nationalists. 

“I found this arson to be bloodcurdling. This is unacceptable and goes against everything that the European Union exists for. Every European has the right to be who they are, regardless of gender, skin colour or sexual orientation. LGBT rights are human rights.”

De Croo took matters into his own hands by asking the Belgian embassy to prepare a response, encouraging other EU nations to follow suit. He continued “The Embassy in Poland is very active regarding this theme [of homophobia]. If you want to change the world, you have to make sure that you start at home.” Perhaps this was a dig at the EU who has been criticised by analysts for failing to act on the equality abuses which have taken place throughout the year. 

The strategy itself may not go far enough in guaranteeing that EU member states comply with European Law, the strategy outline stating ‘Many of the policy areas linked to improving LGBTIQ equality are primarily national responsibilities”.

This strategy has little weight and is not binding, signalling the need of approved legislation by the European Parliament and member states before any pressure can be implemented on individual nations in breach of the rights.  

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