Europe cannot impose recognition of same-sex partnerships says EU Commissioner

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The man responsible for the new EU directive on discrimination has said that it is up to individual member states whether or not to legally recognise gay and lesbian relationships.

Vladimir Spidla, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said in an interview for Destination Equality magazine that the directive must strike a balance between national competence in family law and the non-discrimination principle.

The magazine is published by gay rights group ILGA Europe. Click here to see a copy.

In July the European Commission adopted a proposal for a directive which provides for protection from discrimination on grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief beyond the workplace.

All goods and services which are commercially available to the public, including housing, will be covered by the directive.

EU directives are legislation that requires member states to, for example, deal with discrimination, but leaves it up to the states to decide on the best course of action to take.

There is at present no EU law protecting LGB people from discrimination in areas such as goods and services which exist for race and gender.

All forms of discrimination at work are already covered by directives.

The directive will cover direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment and victimisation.

There is concern that differing legal status of same-sex couples in different member states could lead to discrimination in parts of the EU.

“Within European legislation we have gone as far as we can go,” said Mr Spidla.

“If a state accepts the equality of these relationships then that state cannot discriminate.

“And there are already some infringement procedures against some states on this matter.

“However, whether the state accepts these unions or not is a basic national competence. And we don’t interfere with that.

“I think that we found the best possible balance in the proposal of the directive.

“These are national competences over things that are very sensitive and which are not the subject of European legislation so we preserve them in that way and I think that at this moment there is the best possible balance.”

Mr Spidla was asked about about a same-sex couple married in Belgium who would lose their rights and protections if they move to a member state that does not recognise their marriage.

“That is a very sensitive question. There are possibilities of transferring some social entitlements such as pension benefits,” he said.

“So these are things which have to be commented on with a very deep and accurate knowledge of the issue.

“On the other hand, my goal and my political aim is equal protection against discrimination on all grounds throughout the whole EU.

“And of course when it comes to transferability of social entitlements I am also trying to ensure that transferability is as universal as possible. That is my approach.”

Family law remains a matter for the member states and not the EU. At present some EU nations, such as Spain and Belgium allow gay marriages.

The UK has same-sex partnerships, a system that will be introduced in the Republic of Ireland.

Other nations such as France have registration systems that give gay and lesbian couples some rights.

The French pacte civil de solidarité (PACS) is fully recognised in Britain, but France does not recognise UK partnerships.

Any EU-wide agreement on the issue of same-sex recognition would require a consensus among the 27 member states.

Given that politicians in Latvia, Poland and Lithuania are openly homophobic, such an agreement seems unlikely.

The issue of cross-border recognition was raised in the European Parliament earlier this month.

A declaration has been tabled on the issue. If it is signed by more than 50% of MEPs it will be adopted as a resolution.

It calls for “member states with existing same-sex partnership legislation to recognise the arrangements of other member states that have also made provisions for same-sex partnerships,” and for “guidelines for such mutual recognition by member states with existing same-sex partnership legislation.”

Resolutions are formally adopted by the European Parliament and forwarded to the Commission, Council and member state governments for consideration.

The declaration was tabled by Lim Dem MEP Sharon Bowles.

Her colleague Sarah Ludford, the party’s European justice & human rights spokeswoman, backed the initiative.

“Legislative changes which have enabled legal partnerships for same-sex couples have greatly improved the quality of life of many in the LGBT community,” she said.

“But free movement rights which are supposed to belong to all EU citizens remain a fiction for gay couples if they are regarded just as two single people abroad.

“The current system whereby EU states ‘pick and choose’ when to grant recognition is causing inexcusable havoc for gay couples trying to exercise their right to move.”