EU pressures member states on discrimination

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The European Commission is examining replies from three member states after it had warned them to transpose into national law a 2000 directive against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Commission had sent letters of formal notice to Italy and Latvia on December 15th 2006 and to Finland on January 3rd 2007.

Two members of the EU Parliament, Marco Cappato and Sophie In’t Veld, last month asked for the intervention of the Commission, which had given December 2003 as a deadline to approve anti-discrimination legislation.

Cappato warned that there could be further action, including a ruling by the EU Court of Justice and subsequent fines, and urged the countries’ lawmakers to comply with the EU rulings.

The infringement against Italy did not specifically deal with sexual orientation, but rather general problems covering all grounds of discrimination.

Italian legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is currently before Parliament, after having last week narrowly passed a first round vote in the Senate.

The law, part of a “security package” decree, split the government’s majority, with some MPs threatening to abandon the coalition if the legislation is not be changed in its second reading.

Their warnings spread worry in the coalition government, as a split of one of its components could cause a government crisis, due to the coalition’s narrow majority.

Last week a crisis was narrowly avoided, after an ultra-Catholic MP, Paola Binetti, refused to vote in favour of the legislation, following a rumoured phone call with a Vatican cardinal.

Another Catholic MP, Mauro Fabris, speaking on behalf of his party, the small Vatican-oriented UDEUR, warned that they would “immediately leave the coalition” if the part of the law that refers to gay people is kept.

“It is not acceptable that playing with a fundamental issue such as security, the radical wing of our coalition exploit the decree as a Trojan horse to introduce improper forms of recognitions of gay rights, which would lead to legalise gay couples,” he said.

Separate proposals to legalise a form of civil register in Italy are also before the Italian parliament, but are being delayed by conservative MPs and Senators.

Criticising the Catholic wing of his majority, Socialist MP Franco Grillini, formerly a leader of Italian LGBT organisation Arcigay, said that Italy could become the only EU country without anti-homophobic legislation.

“In Europe, on the LGBT issues, we are the exception, not the rule,” he said.

The other two countries which received the warning from the Commission have apparently complied with EU legislation.

There was a specific problem regarding sexual orientation not being included in the Finnish civil servants Act, but legislation change is now on course.

As for Latvia, the legislation has apparently already been changed so that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is prohibited.

The Commission is now examining the replies of the member states, to decide whether to proceed to the next stage of the infringement process, the reasoned opinion.

Decisions will be taken in early 2008.