President. The next item is the Commission statement on homophobia in Europe.
Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, Community competence with regard to the measures necessary to combat discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, is based on Article 13 of the EC Treaty.
Furthermore, the Commission would point out that the ban on this type of discrimination is explicitly provided for in Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. On this basis, the Commission endeavours, and will continue to endeavour, within the framework of its powers, to take a hard line against homophobia. Combating sexual orientation discrimination is a crucial element in the fight against homophobia.
Directive 2000/78/EC, which paves the way for a general framework promoting equal treatment in employment and occupation and covering all the forms of discrimination included in Article 13, is a practical example of this action, and the Commission is ensuring, and will continue to ensure, that this directive is implemented in the Member States.
The Commission is nonetheless aware of the fact that legislative action must be backed up by other initiatives aimed at combating de facto discrimination, humiliating practices, prejudice and stereotypes. Allow me to mention two practical measures taken by the Commission.
The first measure consists of an information campaign, launched in 2003 and entitled ‘For Diversity – Against Discrimination’. This campaign is currently under way and is aimed at promoting a positive image of diversity, as well as informing the public about anti-discrimination laws. Organisations defending the rights of homosexuals are among the partners involved in this measure, and several initiatives have accordingly been taken, such as an information campaign and an effort to raise the public’s awareness of the forms of discrimination suffered by homosexuals.
The second initiative lies within the framework of the recent proposal aimed at making 2007 the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. The objectives will be to inform people of their rights, to promote diversity as an asset and an opportunity for the Union and to highlight equal opportunities for all, whether in terms of economic, social, cultural or political life. The Commission considers that organisations involved in combating sexual orientation discrimination will be able to benefit a great deal from this last measure.
The fact remains that the Union and the Commission can only act within the framework of the powers granted to them by the Treaty. For example, the Commission can open a possible infringement procedure against a Member State, but it can only do so if a violation of fundamental rights has been observed with regard to the application of Community law. It is, however, the responsibility of the Member States to exercise powers over and above those possessed by the Union and to take the necessary measures to combat homophobia. In any case, whether it is a question of situations falling within, or outside, the framework of Community law, it is clear that the Commission totally condemns any demonstration or expression of homophobia.
IN THE CHAIR: MR MAURO Vice-President
Alexander Stubb, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, I wish to begin by thanking all the political groups involved in drawing up this resolution. I pay tribute in particular to Mr Cashman, Mrs in 't Veld and Mr Romeva i Rueda for their work. I wish to raise three issues on behalf of myself and my group.
The first is that this resolution is not about homosexuality as such but about homophobia, and for us this is really an issue about human rights and whether you approve of beating other people because of their sexual orientation.
We all agree that there is a lot to do in all Member States and within the institutions. A lot of pressure needs to be applied. Commissioner Frattini referred to Article 13 of the Treaty and Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and I agree with that; but the key here is to get the Member States to abide by them. That is really why we are having this debate: to get the Member States into line.
The second issue concerns the two problems we are facing in fighting homophobia. The first is the inequality in the legislation of the Member States. We have all heard of the problems linked to free movement: one couple being accepted, for instance, in the Netherlands but not being accepted and getting the same rights – social or otherwise – for instance, in Italy. The second problem is a worrying development in many Member States – I do not want to pinpoint any one in particular. We all see and face the problems of hate crimes and discrimination. We must also remember that this is not only about sexual orientation; it is also about gender identity and gender expression.
My final point – which goes slightly beyond the scope of this matter – is that we must remember that there are still 75 countries that consider homosexuality to be illegal and 9 countries which impose the death penalty for it. We must get rid of that.
Martine Roure, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (FR) Mr President, Europe is, in fact, built on absolute principles: equality, tolerance and humanism. No exception can be made to these fundamental principles; they are simply vital, and the authorities must defend them at all costs when they are attacked. Verbal abuse is hurled at some of our fellow citizens, and real forms of discrimination are emerging. The most appalling thing of all is the fact that outright beatings have led to several deaths in various Member States of the Union. What have the victims of these vile acts done? Nothing. They are simply of a different sexual orientation - they are homosexuals – and the text before us, which we are debating this evening, provides for an important bill.
By voting in favour of this resolution, we are saying loud and clear that we wish to put a stop to the difference in treatment suffered by homosexuals on EU soil and to see them guaranteed the same rights. We emphasise this point: the laws must be the same for everyone. Finally, we solemnly call for an end to the homophobic remarks that stir up hatred, especially when these condemnatory words are uttered by the highest State authorities. These authorities are the guarantors of equal treatment for all.
It is our duty, under Article 13 of the Treaty, to safeguard each person’s fundamental rights. This is our common vision of democracy and of our values. We need to be vigilant on a daily basis. The fight against homophobia must, if necessary, be conducted through the use of legislative provisions, such as already exist, I might add, in several Member States of the Union. The Europe of 25 means fraternity and equality. Let us waste no time in eradicating the bad seeds sprouting here and there.
We have a duty to oppose hatred and the rejection of others. I can only repeat today the words of the German pastor, Martin Niemöller, who resisted the Nazis: ‘When they came to arrest my Communist neighbour, I did not speak up, because I was not a Communist. When they came to arrest my gypsy neighbour, I did not speak up, because I was not a gypsy. When they came to arrest my Jewish neighbour, I did not speak up, because I was not Jewish. When they came to arrest me, there was no one left to speak up for me’. Thank you.
Sophia in’t Veld, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, in times of growing intolerance, an overwhelming majority of this Parliament have sent a very clear signal, and that is cause for rejoicing. All too often, homophobia is justified under the banner of other fundamental rights, namely freedom of religion and freedom of opinion. Some Member States hide behind the principle of subsidiarity in order to legitimise discrimination and, with all due respect, Commissioner, even the Commission often uses this faint-hearted excuse to look the other way. I expect the Commission to be right behind the fundamental rights of all European citizens, irrespective of where they live, for that is what we in this Parliament do too. The fundamental rights are not a matter of subsidiarity. They are indefeasible and universal for all citizens of the European Union.
Solemn declarations and moral indignation are not enough, though; they also, as is specified in our joint resolution, have to be backed up by a whole host of things. We must invest not only in information and education, but also in improving the legal position of homosexuals. While I am on the subject, I should like to insist once more – and I would like to hear from the Commissioner what plans are under way in this respect – on what is referred to as the horizontal directive that prohibits all forms of discrimination, not only in the workplace, but everywhere.
Furthermore, it is scandalous that some Member States should still not have fully recognised the fact that homosexuals were the target of the Nazi regime. I hope that the Austrian Presidency will be able to put this to the Member States in the Council and can subsequently recognise homosexuals as being the victims of the Nazis.
Finally, I should like to hear when the Commission will at long last do as it has repeatedly been asked to do and table proposals for removing obstructions for the free movement of persons for married homosexual couples. It is unacceptable that Europeans, when crossing the border, should lose their rights on the grounds of their sexual orientation, including rights of ownership, pension entitlements, social security, even custody over their own children. I would like to hear from the Commission what proposals it will table further to a request by the European Parliament to this effect that dates back to October 2004.
Kathalijne Maria Buitenweg, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, more than a year ago, the President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, gave a plenary speech in response to statements made by Mr Buttiglione, a candidate Commissioner, in which the former made a number of clear promises. I have read up on this speech once again.
Anti-discrimination and equal opportunities were to be a top priority for this Commission, with a group of Commissioners to monitor all Commission action and major initiatives in this area. It will act as a political driving force. Well, my question to the Commission is what exactly this working party has achieved over the past year, for the disappointing list drafted by Commissioner Frattini does not really do justice to this enormous pledge and there is plenty of work to be done.
As Mrs in 't Veld has already said, it remains unacceptable that there should be European rules that prohibit the discrimination of people on the basis of the colour of their skin, say when renting a house, but that homosexuals are still outside of the law. Why is the right to equal treatment of people, irrespective of their sexual orientation, restricted to the labour market?
In Poland, a number of freedom demonstrations have been banned, and there is every indication that the authorities want to stand in the way of gay emancipation over there. My group is concerned about this, as it is about a number of developments in Latvia and Lithuania, and also in other countries.
It is worrying that the groups often do not dare speak out on this issue. Take the Liberals. Where inefficient spending of European subsidies is concerned, they insist on naming and shaming, but when we talk about basic European values, nobody says a word, and that I believe to be wrong.
I therefore hope that individual Members will now vote in favour of the amendments so that we can address the issue as a whole.
Jan Tadeusz Masiel (NI).–(PL) Mr President, I too am opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but we should exercise caution in granting ever more rights to homosexuals.
I am delighted that we are holding this debate today. The rights of homosexuals must be defended wherever possible. It is not that long ago that homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organisation’s classification of diseases. I am all in favour of such a move, but I am not sure whether it is a good idea to legalise homosexual unions. These latter should perhaps be given backing for the purposes of inheritance law, but homosexual couples must not be allowed to adopt children. Such practices are distasteful, outrageous and scandalous, and there have not been any psychological studies showing that they can be regarded as normal.
Konrad Szymański, on behalf of the UEN Group. –(PL) Mr President, there can be no question that we are faced in Europe with a situation in which homosexuals sometimes suffer violence or contempt at the hands of the police services.
That much can be learned from reports on such matters. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think that this debate is largely a waste of time. My opinion stems from a belief that it would be a very good idea indeed to restore a sense of proportion to this heated debate, and to avoid succumbing to hysteria when describing the situation of homosexuals in Europe. ‘Hysteria’ is the only appropriate word for descriptions that paint a picture of resistance movements, arrests and war. Mrs Roure provided us with a good example of such descriptions in her speech.
I should like to draw the House’s attention to two facts. Firstly, violence against homosexuals represents only a fraction of the violence which is endemic in our societies, and which is a problem faced by every EU Member State. We have seen one example of it today, and we saw further examples a few months ago in France. This is only one aspect of a much larger problem.
Another facet to this question is that every EU Member State, whether old or new, has its own institutions. It has become apparent that these latter, by which I mean courts, ombudsmen, and even public opinion, are capable of providing effective protection for the rights of minorities.
If we were to approach this debate from a legal perspective, we would come up against a whole series of problems and obstacles in the shape of Treaty law. Fortunately, we will not be able to do anything to change this. There is no consensus in Europe that the Treaties should be amended in order to give the EU jurisdiction over such key matters as the recognition of homosexual unions and their implications outside the borders of the Member State that has authorised them.
It therefore follows that there is no reason why the EU should be called to act on such issues such as homophobia. There would be an inevitable consequence of doing so, however. The credibility of the integration process, which is already being used by some as an ideological weapon, would be undermined.
Barbara Kudrycka (PPE-DE).–(PL) Mr President, in my opinion it is legitimate to ask whether Mrs Buitenweg’s approach to the issue of homophobia in Europe is one that should by adopted by any politician. Do we have the right to impose our way of thinking on voters, or to tell them how they should approach the problem of sexuality and sexual minorities?
It is my belief that sexuality is a private matter for every individual, and that everyone should exercise this sexuality in line with their own morality, religion and culture, and in accordance with local customs. The European Parliament cannot therefore set itself the goal of winning general approval in Europe for homosexuality, and it should not expect such a thing. We must not forget that while some countries in Europe are more tolerant, others have more conservative social norms. Yet homosexuals are attacked and beaten up in even the most tolerant countries, such as the Netherlands and France. I need only mention the case of the homosexual Sebastian Nouchet, who was doused in petrol and set alight in France. If we are going to hold a debate on such matters at all, we should therefore focus our attention on ways of preventing an escalation of homophobic hatred.
We will not succeed in doing so, however, unless we manage to draw a line between protection of the right to sexual privacy, and violation of the right to displays of this sexuality. I should therefore like to make it quite clear that any minority that feels the need to demonstrate the fact that it is different is naturally free to do so. No minority may be discriminated against in this regard. As a matter of fact, a whole system of judicial and constitutional bodies, including an ombudsman, has been set up in Poland to protect this freedom and to ensure compliance with European legislation. Any bans on homosexual demonstrations are of an incidental nature only.
In conclusion, I should like to emphasise that the law should benefit sexual majorities as well as sexual minorities.
Michael Cashman (PSE). – Mr President, I wish to express my disappointment at the statement made by Commissioner Frattini, which was more a repetition than a statement. Commissioner, we know you are concerned and we know the Commission is concerned, but the Commission should be judged on what it does. Infringement proceedings must be brought against any Member State that fails to transpose or implement the appropriate directives already in force in a number of Member States. I agree that we must campaign and educate, but that in itself is not enough. A proposal for a horizontal directive directly related to the race and ethnicity directive promised by President Borroso must be brought before this House.
I am saddened by some of the contributions this afternoon. This is about equality, not about promoting homosexuality. It is about giving homosexuals the equal rights and equality that others take so much for granted.
I am gay. I am a homosexual, born to an ordinary man and woman. Because of that some people will wish to take away my right to talk about my sexuality, to celebrate my 22-year relationship and to be part of a wider community. Some would vilify me, take away my democratic rights and use hate-speak against me. I could decide to go on a gay pride march, but that gay pride march could be banned. Why? Because society is preoccupied with what it perceives as my sex life. A judgement has been made on it. Where is the morality in that? Where is the morality in preaching and promoting discrimination and hatred, sometimes behind the shield and the excuse of religion or belief?
I say to Commission Frattini and the entire Commission, as well as to this House, that if we do nothing when we see people beaten to death, vilified and discriminated against then we are condoning and becoming complicit in those beatings, in the hate-speak, the defamation and the ill-treatment. Even in the United Kingdom, where enormous advances have been made, a young man was kicked to death just before Christmas for no other reason than he was homosexual. If this House does nothing then it is party to every single blow that was rained upon that individual and other men like him and on gay women across the European Union. That I should even have to make such a statement here in Parliament makes this a day of great sadness.
Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Mr President, I have to acknowledge that, as Mr Cashman has said, even in my own constituency of London we continue to see prejudice and homophobic crime. Just recently a gay man was killed purely out of murderous prejudice. A few years ago we had a hate-crazed bomber who specifically intended to kill gay customers of a bar. Of course he killed others too. But we are largely looking at private hate and prejudice. What is so shocking about developments in some Member States is the crude official intolerance: the banning of Pride demonstrations, inflammatory language even by Prime Ministers, police failure to protect marches, and so on.
We need European legislation to outlaw hate crime on grounds not only of race – which we have still not achieved – but also of sexual orientation. And we need to equalise the treatment of race, gender and sexual orientation in generalising the ban on discrimination not only in the workplace, but also in the receipt of services and in the supply of goods. The patchwork that we have at the moment is not good enough. I look also to Commissioner Frattini to lead the effort to greatly improve the generalised protection of both women and minorities.
Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE). – (ES) Mr President, now that we are well into the 21st century we cannot just condemn homophobia: we must fight it politically and legally.
The only way to look at homophobia is as a combination of ignorance and impunity. According to the Treaties, the European institutions are responsible for ensuring respect for the rights and freedoms of its Member States. This means combating ignorance and the impunity of homophobic statements and actions, which are not just taking place, but which are increasing in some European countries.
I profoundly regret statements such as those that have been made in Poland or decisions such as those taken in the Latvian Parliament, which fundamentally violate the principle of equal rights, a principle which must prevail in the construction of the shared values upon which the European Union is founded.
I would therefore urge the Commission to condemn homophobia and to set up legal and political mechanisms so that this problem will one day be confined to history.
Philip Claeys (NI). – (NL) Mr President, I do not think there is anybody in this House who would accept homosexuals being discriminated against, attacked, intimidated or whatever on account of their orientation, but that is not, in fact, what today’s discussion is about.
The question for discussion is whether it is still possible to criticise the spirit of political correctness that is gradually suffocating the free expression of opinion. Although the time when homosexuality was a taboo subject is fortunately in the past, these days it has become taboo to raise objections about some types of behaviour or complain about some homosexuals, even though this is completely unrelated to discrimination, hatred or whatever. The Buttiglione case is still fresh in the memory. For example, anyone who is opposed to homosexual marriage is promptly written off as homophobic and criminalised.
Commissioner Frattini talked about diversity a moment ago, but it is important that we remain open to diversity of opinion, for the sanctimoniousness of 19th century sexual morals is gradually giving way to the sanctimoniousness of political correctness.
Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin (PPE-DE). – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Parliament has prided itself on having spearheaded the fight against discrimination where equality between men and women, the status of ethnic minorities, the situation of disabled people and, more recently, respect for people’s sexual orientation are concerned.
Article 13 of the Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and numerous directives make it not only the right, but also the duty, of our Assembly to continue to fight for the equal rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals. In view of the substantial progress recorded in this area in many Member States, some people had hoped, if not for this matter to have been settled, then at least for it to have died down.
No such thing has happened, and a real upsurge in homophobic language and violence can even be observed. The recent remarks made by Polish political leaders dismayed us, with the European Commission, I am afraid to say, only reacting to them in a very half-hearted manner. Other unacceptable speeches of this kind have been made in other countries, including France. Violent acts, ranging from insults to torture and murder, are to be deplored everywhere. These crimes are taking place in a particularly worrying international context, in countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Senegal. Homosexuals are being persecuted because of the way in which they live their lives. Worse still, in Iran, two have been executed.
We are therefore delighted to welcome the Commission statement on homophobia in the European Union. Our colleague from the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, Mr Stubb, had prepared a resolution, on behalf of our group, calling on the Commission and the Member States to take practical legislative and operational measures to combat these forms of discrimination. Today, it is a resolution common to five political groups that we are examining. One can only be delighted to see that, in this Chamber, the fight for human rights has transcended partisan borders. The pious hopes contained in the Commission’s statements must now be very swiftly replaced by a practical and comprehensive directive. Equally, it is up to each one of us to continue this fight in our respective countries for a form of equality that consists not only of the right to other people’s indifference towards their sexuality, but also of the right to be different.
Lissy Gröner (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, attacks on homosexuals are bad news, and we are getting that news from every corner of the European Union. The Vice-President, Commissioner Frattini, has told us what means the Commission has at its disposal to deal with homophobia and what it is actually doing with them, but what I should like him to tell us is whether that is meant to be enough. Are we really meant to find it acceptable that discrimination in the Member States should go unpunished and that they should fail to transpose the anti-discrimination directives? That is why there is a need for a build-up of political will, and this debate helps to bring that about. Five groups have come together and agreed on a text that denounces discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and which is intended to protect homosexuals, lesbians, transgendered people and bisexuals.
The fact is, though, that more needs to be done; transposing the anti-discrimination directives cannot be something that Member States are left to do as and when they feel like it, and – as has already been said – if their authorities interfere with the right to demonstrate by, for example, banning gay pride marches, then they have to be called to account. Fundamental rights need to be reinforced and must apply not only in Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, where the rights of same-sex couples are fully recognised, but throughout the European Union too.
I am absolutely outraged by what I have just heard said about the right to adopt being under attack. What determines whether or not a child will develop and flourish is the parents’ love and devotion, not their sexual orientation. That is where discrimination starts, and, although – thank God – we punish it, there are powerful voices in places like the Vatican who speak out in its defence, thereby encouraging even more flagrant manifestations of homophobia.
I will therefore close by saying that morality is a private matter for private citizens themselves, but what we in this House have to do is defend the law, and that is what five groups are doing.
Holger Krahmer (ALDE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I wonder whether I will live to see homosexuality accepted and lived as something completely normal. I wonder whether the time will come when politicians will no longer be able to make political capital for themselves with discriminatory comments about homosexual people, and I wonder when same-sex partnerships will be recognised as sharing responsibilities and enjoying equal rights. There is something about the view – as expressed in the Pope’s definition – of homosexual couples as merely convenient arrangements for the purpose of pursuing meaningless sex that betrays a contempt for people, and it bears no relation to the reality of life as lived by homosexual couples.
Discrimination against homosexual lifestyles and their marginalisation begins in people’s heads, and our adopting a directive on the subject will not put a stop to it. The events in Poland are no more accidental than the latest utterances of one Italian minister are slips of the tongue; rather, they are expressions of an attitude of mind.
Combating homophobia is an educational task, and it is intended that 2007 should be the Year against Discrimination. The Commission needs to give the fight against homophobia the same level of priority among its activities as the combating of discrimination on the grounds of gender, race or religion.
Elisabeth Schroedter (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, I am disappointed by Commissioner Frattini’s speech, for what he is doing is retreating and saying we will intervene only when rights are infringed, but if the core principles of the European Union are violated, we will do nothing – indirectly admittedly, but that is what you said, Commissioner! The fact is that sexuality and sexual orientation are fundamental rights too, and they too are in the Treaty. Where the violation of those rights is on an official footing, in Poland, for example, where these people are on the receiving end of enormously discriminatory utterances on the part of leading politicians, and persecuted and injured when they take part in these demonstrations, which is an offence against these young people’s human dignity, the Commission stands by and declines to intervene, on the grounds that European law has not been broken. Your written answer to my question was couched in precisely those terms, and that, Commissioner Frattini, is just not on! What is going on in Poland is a departure from the observance of the Copenhagen criteria and from the core principles of this European Union, and so we have to make it clear at European level that this is unacceptable and that changes must be made without delay.
Józef Pinior (PSE).–(PL) Mr President, I should like to draw the attention of the House to recent and repeated manifestations of intolerance in my home country, Poland, which frequently take the form of incitements to violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. I should also like to alert the House to the state authorities’ failure to respond appropriately to these and other displays of homophobia. Examples include the banning of Equality Marches in Warsaw and Poznań, and the fact that the measures provided for in Polish law have not been taken against groups inciting others to intolerance and to violence against people who promote equal rights for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.
We are faced with the authorities’ acceptance of what amounts to political thuggery directed at the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities. On 13 January 2006, a court in Elbląg opened proceedings against Robert Biedroń, the head of the Campaign against Homophobia. The public prosecutor’s office has charged Mr Biedroń with insulting Catholics, even though he has stressed that he never intended to insult Catholicism or to put it on a par with fascism. It is worth emphasising that the same public prosecutor’s office refused to institute proceedings following the insulting references to homosexuals contained in an article in the publication Nasz Dziennik, in which it was stated that ‘homosexuality is a disease and a threat to the family.
Emine Bozkurt (PSE). – (NL) Mr President, homophobia is not only a big problem in some Member States, but also in the rest of Europe too. I am therefore pleased that my proposal for the monitoring of hate crimes against homosexuals and lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, has been included in the joint resolution against homophobia in Europe. This is new and I am pleased that Parliament wishes to support this fresh initiative. I should now like to hear from the Commissioner how the Commission intends to carry out this monitoring in practice. We gain our knowledge through measuring, and this is certainly also true of the extent of violence and hostility on the basis of sexual orientation or in respect of transsexuals.
I think that too little attention is being paid to transsexuals. Unfortunately, transsexuals still face exclusion, violence and lack of understanding in all EU Member States on a regular basis. The European Union still does far too little to protect the human rights of homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals. The European Union has the opportunity of flexing its muscle, and it is therefore high time it did. You either protect human rights or you do not.
The time has come to translate this fine theory into practice and use the means which the EU has at its disposal, such as suspending a Member State’s right to vote.
Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo García (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, I just wish to add a few brief words at this point in the debate, the length and depth of which has shown that, regrettably, homophobia is still a serious and current problem throughout Europe. Your words, therefore, Commissioner Frattini, have not been very convincing, given their coldness and their lack of a full and proactive commitment to combating this scourge. We need much more vigorous action on the part of the Commission and on the part of the Member States, the latter led by the Commission.
Homophobia is there, in customs and traditions, in language, everywhere. Not just in the countries in which the incidents that have led to this debate have taken place, such as Poland, but also in countries such as my own, Spain, where much progress has been made on this issue, but in whose society, authorities and certain professions this homophobic attitude still exists, and we must continue actively to fight it. I agree with the words of many fellow Members, in particular the very moving words of Michael Cashman.
Vittorio Agnoletto (GUE/NGL). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as Martin Luther King said when launching the campaign for African-Americans’ rights, either we achieve freedom together or not at all. What he meant was that there are no black people’s rights or white people’s rights: there are just human rights. Fighting homophobia does not mean showing understanding towards a specific group in the population: first and foremost, it means upholding human rights.
I am frightened by the arrogance of those who deny homosexuals the chance to give blood; I am frightened by the discriminatory campaigns of those who are unable to talk about high-risk behaviour yet still allude to high-risk individuals in the fight against AIDS; or those who ban people from driving just because they are gay.
I cannot silently accept the attitude of a Commission that behaves like Pontius Pilate, in that it does not try to enforce a directive that already exists against discrimination; a Commission that ought to start infringement proceedings against countries that do not respect people’s freedom to choose their sexual orientation – that happens in Italy, Poland and a number of other countries. This is not an issue that just affects a particular group of people, but one that involves the dignity of the whole European Union.
Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful to all those who have spoken. However, I feel obliged to repeat certain information in greater detail, because some speakers have clearly shown – and I say this with the same frankness that you have shown towards me – that they are not familiar with what the Commission is doing.
I must emphasise – and I do not believe there can be any doubt about it – that we are talking about homophobia, which is a violation of human rights, and that is the only point on which I agree with Mr Agnoletto. Homophobia is not about protecting certain categories of people, but it is essentially an issue about absolute rights, which can never be interpreted otherwise.
I should, however, like to clarify a few points. Some of you – Mrs Bozkurt was the last – asked whether or not we would guarantee that the status of homosexual protection and the fight against homophobia in the Member States would be monitored. I can assure you, Mrs Bozkurt, not only that such monitoring will be guaranteed but that it has already been done! You should be aware of the report drawn up a few weeks ago by an independent specialist group – which I have of course made available to Parliament – which illustrates what kind of behaviour in each country runs counter to our common desire to fight discrimination.
That report has been officially passed on to Parliament, and it is obvious that the only reason why I – and no one else – decided to have it prepared on a country-by-country basis was to provide you and us with the information we need to be able to form a judgment. That monitoring, Mrs Bozkurt, will continue: any actions that run counter to this guiding spirit will be exposed in public. Governments too, which are required to take the first step and to report what their national, and not just European, rules are on freedom of assembly, for instance, may draw all the necessary conclusions if they read the relevant documents. Transparent information is indeed a priority.
Other speakers mentioned a promise by President Barroso to adopt a horizontal directive – that was the term used – on the strengthening of and respect for rights in the area of non-discrimination. That too has been done, ladies and gentlemen! In 2005 the Commission adopted a formal communication entitled ‘Non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all’, which clearly indicates what is expected as regards guarantees of greater protection of equal rights.
In that communication to the European Parliament, however, we were duty-bound to point out what everyone knows, which is that when the Commission puts forward a proposal based on Article 13, that proposal must, by law – according to the Treaties and not according to our interpretation – be adopted unanimously by the Council. There is, however, no unanimity within the Council as yet, although I hope there will be. In any case, the 2005 communication very clearly states our intention to harmonise the field of legal protection against all kinds of discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation, which is what some of you claim we have not yet done, ladies and gentlemen.
I shall now turn to another subject, which concerns the powers of the European Commission. I am quite sure that the Commission does not currently have the necessary powers to take action against violations of a right that affects people so deeply, as you rightly said, Mr Cashman. It is precisely to strengthen Europe’s powers, however, that this Commission and I myself have once again proposed that a European agency for the protection of fundamental rights should be set up. The agency would be endowed with the powers that you propose, since it is the European Parliament’s duty to give its opinion on the subject and perhaps increase its powers of intervention. If you accept that proposal and if there is agreement in June, the agency will be a tool aimed precisely at tackling discriminatory behaviour. This proposal is already on the table: it just needs examining, and I have said before and I repeat that we shall listen to any request by Parliament to improve it.
That, however, is just one of the tools available. There are, of course, the usual instruments, such as Article 226 of the Treaty, infringement proceedings, and also a good deal of Court of Justice case law, according to which the Commission is unfortunately not empowered to intervene if the actions lie within the competence of the Member States. I hope that the agency will be active soon, because it will perhaps be the first instrument to meet the demand for such powers.
Mrs Bachelot-Narquin, you mention a right to diversity, and I once again reply that we are already working on it. You should, I believe, be aware of the information campaign programme named precisely ‘For diversity’. Our aim in this programme, which began in late 2003 and is still ongoing, was to put together positive information to explain that diversity is a value for Europe. All the major European gay rights groups are involved in this programme.
I believe you are keeping abreast of all these activities, and it is our intention to continue to work hard in this field. I must therefore reject the accusations that the Commission has done nothing. We intend to carry on with our work in this area and to do so in a spirit of mutual openness. I felt that I should provide you with some facts, and not merely ideas, about initiatives that are already in place and which will improve our determined fight against all kinds of homophobia.
President. – I have received five motions for resolutions(1) under Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.
The debate is closed.
Written statement (Rule 142)
Hélène Goudin (IND/DEM). – (SV) The June List believes that the EU is a union of values that must operate on the principle that everyone has equal value and equal rights. This principle is fundamental to all activities and has also been laid down in the UN’s General Declaration on Human Rights. The EU Member States have ratified a number of legally binding international agreements based on this principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination.
The right not to be exposed to irrelevant special treatment on the grounds of sexual orientation is, then, a fundamental human right. In the debate, this right is sometimes regarded as a negotiable benefit. It is important for us always to have the UN’s declarations on human rights in mind when we debate legislative proposals in this Chamber.
It is only in more recent years that the EU Member States have seriously begun to deal with the issue of homophobia. According to Swedish statistics, the average citizen has a 4% to 6% risk of being exposed to what is referred to as unprovoked violence. Among lesbian and bisexual women, the corresponding figure is between 15% and 24%, while between 28% and 36% of homosexual and bisexual men have been exposed to unprovoked violence. The fact that sexual orientation determines to what extent someone is in danger of being exposed to violence is, of course, unacceptable.
It is important for us, as politicians, to make it clear that all human beings have equal rights and obligations. If we tamper with that principle, we bring fundamental human rights and the UN’s declarations into question.
Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE). – Mr President, I have been a Member of this Parliament for a year and a half now and I find the experience …
(The President asked the speaker to quote the Rule under which she wished to take the floor)
I do not have the Rules of Procedure here, Mr President. It is a very brief question. It is very frustrating that every time we ask questions in the debates, we never get a reply. I asked a very precise question and I did not get an answer.
Kathalijne Maria Buitenweg (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, on the basis of Rule 143(1), I wish to state that Mr Frattini is making out that we are all stupid because it was he who prepared the communication on the broader framework directive. However, he did not bring forward a directive, as Parliament requested, because it seems there was no unanimity ...
President. – Mrs Buitenweg, I am sorry, but Rule 143(1) has nothing to do with your request to take the floor. It merely states that ‘the names of Members who ask leave to speak shall be entered in the list of speakers in the order in which their requests are received.’