Commission VP Timmermans Mocks Neutrality Duty by Siding With LGBT Lobby

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July 17, 2015

What is the duty and mandate of the First Vice-President of the European Commission? A closer look at the misconduct of an unbalanced “relationship” between Mr. Timmermans and ILGA-Europe.

Recent statements by Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, in favour of same-sex marriage (SSM) throughout Europe raises questions about his understanding of the duty and mandate of his office. In a keynote speech on the occasion of the Equality Gala organized by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), Mr. Timmermans asked people “to unreservedly accept same-sex marriage as other marriages“ in the EU. He further called for “a comprehensive LGBT policy approach” so that the LGBTI community may have “full rights, full respect and full participation” in European society.

One would not expect the second highest official of the European Commission to publicly—and so explicitly—support a controversial lobby group. The nature of his role requires that he stick to his mandate of dispensing his duties impartially—and behaving in a dignified way that respects neutrality regarding contentious topics on which there is no consensus in Europe. Unfortunately, Mr. Timmermans’ behaviour and his open support for SSM across Europe blatantly transgresses this mandate.

Although the Code of Conduct for Commissioners explains that commissioners “may be politically active“, it also states quite explicitly that in respect of the principle of independence that must guide the performance of their duties, Commissioners should abstain from making public statements or interventions on behalf of any political party or trade union.

Consequently, it is quite clear that Mr. Timmermans, as the second highest official at the Commission, should not have attended the gala of a non-governmental lobby organization.

Such a high-level position requires that the office-holder exhibit sober behaviour and maintain neutral positions. But, surprisingly, Mr. Timmermans has openly and cavalierly flouted such requirements. In doing so, he has brazenly counteracted his mandate to respect the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, “which are the heart of the Commission’s work”.

As an executive of the EU, the First Vice-President should not and cannot propose bills on family and marriage issues, since these are policy areas reserved for national governments. Nevertheless, Mr. Timmermans has stated:

I also believe the Commission should go forward, and try to get all Member States in the EU to unreservedly accept same-sex marriage as other marriages. Even if they don’t have same-sex marriage yet in their own country, to at least to have the decency to respect the decision of other countries to have same-sex marriage.

Mr. Timmermans has also openly declared his support for specific lobby organizations, ignoring his obligation to remain transparent and impartial:

We will support your work to combat the discrimination of LGBTI people in the European Union, including via our flagship Rights, Equality and Citizenship funding programme and we will give financial grants to the three umbrella organisations—ILGA-Europe, Transgender Europe and IGLYO.

By explicitly stating that the Commission “will give financial grants to three umbrella organisations” that actively promote a certain lifestyle, Mr. Timmermans has put himself in direct opposition to the family—the one fundamental social institution that the state should defending and promoting.

Mr. Timmermans even wants to promote the LGBTI agenda globally:

What will we be doing from the Commission’s side on this? First of all, sharing all these experiences—and I think the Commission should be doing more in making that happen. Fighting for LGBTI rights should be done globally, in all the fora where the Commission can play a role: in the UN, in the OSCE, in the Council of Europe, in all sorts of areas where this is not accepted yet.

At the same time, Mr. Timmermans calls himself a Catholic. But he feels “very comfortable disagreeing with the Pope on almost everything”. He refers aggressively to the Catholic Church’s “everlasting oppression” and claims that in Europe, through “political, and … religious manipulation, there is now homophobia”.

Such statements do nothing to promote the much-desired culture of dialogue and friendship between the state, religious associations, philosophical and non-confessional organizations as requested in the Treaty of the European Union (Art. 17). That document also states:

The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.

And what about the other duty of the First Vice-President of the Commission: “coordinating the work on transparency”? How does one explain the fact that a lobbying group such as ILGA-Europe receives so much funding from the Commission that one could consider it a governmental—rather than a non-governmental—organization?

Civil society and non-governmental organizations are usually financed by private donations and contributions from those who identify with their goals. In the case of ILGA-Europe, the situation is surprisingly different. The Commission’s “Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020”—which has its legal basis in Regulation (EU) No. 1381/2013—is so perfectly aligned with ILGA-Europe’s funding needs, that it ends up providing up to 80% of the lobby’s operating costs. ILGA-Europe’s own annual budget report from 2013 reveals that it received EUR 1,440,837—or 71% of its total income of EUR 2,028,503—from public funding.

The Commission’s First Vice-President has another important duty, too, which is guiding the work of both the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, and the Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs. This entails supervising both offices impartially. Article 245 of the Treaty of the European Union explicitly states that “Members of the Commission shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties. Member States shall respect their independence and shall not seek to influence them in the performance of their tasks”. Furthermore, according to Article 17 of the TFEU:

The members of the Commission shall be chosen on the ground of their general competence and European commitment from persons whose independence is beyond doubt. In carrying out its responsibilities, the Commission shall be completely independent. Without prejudice to Article 9 E(2), the members of the Commission shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution, body, office or entity. They shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties or the performance of their tasks.

But the behaviour of Mr. Timmermans does not follow any of these guidelines—and raises questions about whether the Commission has a particular interest in promoting the controversial social agenda of an organization like ILGA-Europe. What value does the Code of Conduct for Commissioners have if Mr. Timmermans, the second-highest representative of the European Commission, seems to consider it irrelevant to his office?

According to this Code of Conduct, commissioners “should behave in a manner that is keeping with the dignity and the duties of their office” in order to rule “out all risks of a conflict of interests” and “guarantee their independence”. But none of these official guidelines seem to matter to Mr. Timmermans, who ignores the most basic requirements of his office—that of exercising an unbiased and impartial role as Vice-President. Consider his keynote speech for ILGA-Europe in support of SSM, which can be readily found on the European Commission’s official website. One can easily mistake it for an official speech of the Vice-President of the Commission expressing a policy objective of the Commission as a whole. The conflict of interests here is egregious.

It is time to remind the European Commission that its representatives and officials—and, above all, someone at the level of the First Vice-President—should faithfully abide by their own rules of conduct. And in cases where such rules are violated, as in the case of Mr. Timmermans, they should take immediate action to impose sanctions against those guilty of misconduct (Art. 2.2 of the Code of Conduct of Commissioners). There can be no clearer example of such misconduct than using the office of Commission Vice-President to express support for a controversial topic like SSM on behalf of the entire Commission.