EU split down the middle over Maltese document on LGBTIQ discrimination

Hungary and Poland resist, Malta and the Netherlands fight back to push forward non-paper to new Commission on LGBTIQ anti-discrimination

Earlier in the week 19 member states of the European Union, on a Maltese initiative, signed a joint informal document against the discrimination and abuse of LGBTI people
Earlier in the week 19 member states of the European Union, on a Maltese initiative, signed a joint informal document against the discrimination and abuse of LGBTI people

Malta has taken the lead in what has been dubbed a ‘culture war’ among EU member states over values pertaining to anti-discrimination and gay rights, splitting the bloc.

Earlier in the week 19 member states of the European Union, on a Maltese initiative, signed a joint informal document against the discrimination and abuse of LGBTI people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex).

The document will be presented to the new European Commission to be formed in mid-2019 after the European Parliament elections, widely expected to be won by the centre-right and witness new incursions from the far-right to the detriment of social democrats.

In EU jargon it was classified as “presidential conclusions” which do not carry the legal weight of formal Council conclusions
In EU jargon it was classified as “presidential conclusions” which do not carry the legal weight of formal Council conclusions

“We are declaring our determination against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This document proclaims the undeniability of such rights to every single person.”

The countries that agreed to Malta’s initiative are Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Estonia.

The document calls for better monitoring of EU laws on anti-discrimination and for an EU-wide strategy on LGBTI persons to be implemented. But Malta’s dedication is certainly not shared by the entire EU bloc.

Hungary and Poland on Thursday torpedoed the joint statement, and having failed to achieve unanimity – even facing a revolt from EU countries that said they would no longer tolerate the actions of Warsaw and Budapest – Austria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, adopted the text with the reference to LGBTI included.

But in EU jargon it was classified as “presidential conclusions” which do not carry the legal weight of formal Council conclusions.

Indeed, the non-paper even left out the Q — questioning or queer individuals -  from the LGBTI acronym in what could have been an oversight due to the brouhaha over the document.

Poland and Hungary have in fact resisted what was considered to be uncontested language calling on European governments to oppose discrimination on grounds of gender and sexuality.

In response, the Dutch threatened to block any EU language on anti-discrimination if it fails to explicitly mention the terms gender or LGBTI.

The split on the Maltese document marks the first time since 2000 that the bloc has failed to back LGBTI non-discrimination. In a bid to reach a compromise, Austria tried to placate both sides by replacing the term “gender” with “genetic features” – a proposal that angered EU states that refuse to bow to conservatives or roll back commitments to oppose prejudice.

The split reflects a major point of difference between ‘western’ EU states and Eastern countries that have retreated to nationalistic positions. After the migration crisis of the last years, conservative and nationalist governments — led by Budapest and Warsaw — have become increasingly vocal about their objections to progressive causes such as anti-discrimination.

In October, EU member states failed for the first time to sign off on Europe’s Fundamental Rights Charter because Poland objected to the inclusion of a section on LGBTI rights.

The Financial Times quoted one diplomat describing the efforts of Warsaw and Budapest as “salami” tactics to pare back what had been considered core EU values. “There’s a point where you have to say stop,” the diplomat said. 

Both countries are facing so-called Article 7 disciplinary proceedings for allegedly violating EU democratic norms. The European Commission is seeking to sanction Poland because of controversial changes to the country's judicial system, while the European Parliament has brought Hungary up on charges of undermining judicial independence, freedom of expression, and the rights of minorities. The Parliament also cited public corruption and maltreatment of migrants and refugees in its case against Hungary.

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