Brussels -- In January of this year, the European Commission urged Member States to act according to a decision which allowed the prescription-free sale of ellaOne, a contraceptive with an abortifacient effect. As a result, many countries – among them Germany – took this as a sign that any legislation which foresaw its sale only on the basis of a medical prescription should be abolished. However, the Commission this week clarified that there is in fact no obligation for Member States to do so.
What happened? In November 2014 the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that ellaOne be made available across Europe as an emergency contraceptive without a prescription. EllaOne is one of two ‘morning-after-pills’ available on the European market and, since its launch in 2009, was available only with a prescription in EU Member States.
On the occasion of the International Day of People with Disability (3 December), more than 100 organisations representing several million citizens in EU Member States are calling upon the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for a repeal of the proposed Equal Treatment Directive.
Originally intended to remedy specific discrimination against disabled people, it has since become an instrument to advance many other wide-ranging political objectives. The signatories of the open letter are worried that the proposed Directive, if adopted, would limit the fundamental civil rights of all European citizens in a grave and harmful way – particularly the freedom to carry out diverse and targeted professional, economic and service activities without being afraid of being accused of discrimination.
In an open letter addressed to President Juncker, and in accordance with his order “to discuss, within the first three months of the mandate, with the European Parliament and the Council, the list of pending legislative proposals and to determine whether to pursue them or not, in accordance with the principle of ‘political discontinuity’”, signatories are urging the President and his Vice-President Frans Timmermans to drop the problematic Directive, which has consistently failed over the past six years to obtain the unanimity required for its approval.
The Commission’s original intention in proposing the Directive was to remedy specific discriminations faced by people with disabilities in their daily life – not just in their area of employment. However, in 2008, bowing to political pressure, the Commission added religion or belief, age and sexual orientation as prohibited grounds to their proposal. Since then, the Directive has been used as an instrument to advance many other objectives. The result is that the Commission’s final proposal is a cumbersome and poorly drafted document, which regulates citizen’s private behaviour in an unprecedented way – without any demonstrated necessity – and multiplies the possibilities for conflict and confusion.
Especially troubling is the Directive’s use of vague words and malleable language (such as “discrimination,” “harassment,” “less favourable treatment”, etc.), which could eventually result in unpredictable interpretations – and produce unfavourable and negative consequences. Furthermore, adoption of the Directive as it now stands would greatly impact the work of ‘ethos-based’ institutions such as churches, confessional schools and associations.
Providing professional services and entering into contractual agreements, freely and without coercion, are important ways people interact in society. Citizens must remain free to do this – and must be allowed to differ in their choices, convictions and worldviews. The proposed Directive, however, would create abstract legal obligations, which would dramatically impact such voluntary arrangements. This could seriously undermine individual autonomy and social diversity, and would put each and every European citizen under a general suspicion of exhibiting discriminatory behaviour towards fellow citizens.
The signatories of the open letter to President Juncker strongly believe the EU should not adopt such a harsh, freedom-limiting law like the proposed Directive, especially when its many potential negative effects – limitations of basic civil freedoms, bureaucratic control of all private economic activity, disproportionate administrative and financial burdens placed on citizens – are much more likely than any possible positive outcomes. There are, instead, more suitable and less freedom-limiting instruments that can be used in order to address perceived injustices and inequalities in society. Therefore, the signatories of the open letter urge the European Commission to finally drop the proposed Directive and come up with better, more targeted remedies for real and demonstrated problems that citizens in the EU face.
For further information, please contact Sophia Kuby, Executive Director of European Dignity Watch, firstname.lastname@example.org
The European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (EPPSP), whose Advisory Board is composed of 11 different European NGOs, met November 12 to set their objectives for the next five years of the new legislature. Calling for a “right to secularism” was defined as one of its top priorities.
In the ideal world of the European secularists – who think liberal democracy is constantly under threat from religion – citizens who are believers would not have the same right as other citizens to engage in public debate. They would be silenced. And European secularists would consider this democratic progress, freedom or even political neutrality. They argue that the political sphere must be ‘protected’ from all religious belief which continues to influence democracy and human rights. Furthermore, according to those who militantly advocate for a Europe free from religion, it is the Vatican – with its “huge powers” – that is the main threat to modern secular society.
Yesterday, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) together with the Italian Presidency of the Council of the EU (all 28 Member States) held a conference in Brussels on ‘Tackling sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination’. With more than 200 representatives from the 28 Member States and civil society organizations in attendance, the high-level conference pushed for stronger sanctions -- including criminal ones -- against such ‘discrimination’.
But the conference’s agenda was based entirely on the unreliable results of the FRA’s survey on discrimination against LGBTI, which has been much criticized during the past year -- in the media and by many Brussels-based NGOs – because of serious flaws in its design. At yesterday’s conference, despite more questions from the floor about its methodology -- and the rather ideological and unscientific nature of the entire survey – these remained unanswered.