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.
This week the European Parliament will begin public confirmation hearings for the 27 candidates nominated by their national governments to be members of Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission, due to take office on 1 November. The grillings of the Commissioners-designate are taken seriously, as Parliament has evolved a de facto veto over individual Commissioners, even if according to the Treaties it can only reject the whole College of Commissioners.
Once again Martin Schulz demonstrates that he views Parliament’s Rules of Procedure as a tool for enhancing his own power and advancing his own agenda.
Last week the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and the European Commission presented reports on their respective annual activities regarding human rights during the first meeting of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). Meeting at the beginning of the new legislature, debate at LIBE can set the tone for years to come. Unfortunately, once again we see a narrow agenda dominating the fundamental rights debate at the European Parliament — hate speech, homophobia and discrimination against LGBT persons were presented as Europe’s biggest challenges with regards to fundamental rights.
The FRA´s main discourse has not changed much since it was first established. Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Agency, focused his presentation on examples taken from the FRA’s ongoing project, “Surveying LGBT people and authorities”. This project has the aim of “providing data to enhance understanding of LGBT people experiences of discrimination and victimization”. Françoise Le Bail, European Commission Director-General for Justice, then supported the FRA’s Director, calling for greater protection against hate speech, homophobic speech, racism, and xenophobia
The European Parliament’s corridors are crowded again after the summer vacation and the first committee sessions have already taken place last week. While members have been mostly occupied with polite welcoming speeches, setting up meeting calendars and budget reviews, there has also been a push for more ‘gender thinking’ among the EU’s top level executives. The newly constituted Women’s Committee of the European Parliament opened the year by pushing for mandatory gender training and gender-oriented senior spots inside the Directorates-General (DGs).
There is no doubt that President Jean-Claude Juncker’s election on 15 July 2014 as President of the European Commission is a milestone in the evolution of the EU and that it might set the stage for a federalist turn in EU governance. Although he has denied his federalist attitude a number of times and has claimed that he does not believe that Europe can be constructed in opposition to the nation-state, his election is destined to affect, among other things, the EU’s entire approach to fundamental rights.
This is, in fact, the first time since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force that the European Parliament, having taken into account the proposal presented by the European Council, has elected the President of the Commission. In the past (and according to the previous EU constitutional framework), it was solely the European Council (i.e. the Member States) that retained the power to appoint the President of the Commission.