Wednesday, 1 September 2010

EU Observer: Mass gay kiss-off to highlight gap in EU law
27.08.2010 by ANDREW RETTMAN

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - An Italian MP is planning to ask gay couples to hold a day of mass-scale public kissing in September in a fight against petty homophobia. But a draft EU law combatting the same problem is likely to stay off the agenda for years.

Paola Concia, an MP from the Partito Democratico, which sits with the centre-left S&D group in the EU parliament, is rolling out the project after organising an earlier protest in the town of Torre del Lago on 11 August, when around 100 people locked lips on the beach in an event called "Many Kisses Against Intolerance."

Ms Concia: "The problem with homophobia in Italy is alarming" (Photo: Paolo Concia)

"This is our answer to a sort of strange campaign against gay and lesbian people in Italy this summer. In many cities and villages, local authorities or even the police told gay and lesbian people that they are not allowed to kiss in the street," she told EUobserver.

"The problem with homophobia in Italy is alarming. In September, I want to organise this in all the cities in Italy, from north to south."

Ms Concia's partner, Ricarda Trautmann, added: "The situation here is worse than in Poland or in Greece. I don't know why this isn't generally known. The Italian government couldn't care less about European law. If the rest of Europe doesn't force Italy to change, then nothing will ever change here."

No EU country has a law against public displays of affection by gay people.

But some local authorities, as in Italy, use "homophobic interpretations" of laws on public order and morality to target gay couples, according to Juris Lavrikovs, from the Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association-Europe.

"This is yet another example why the EU needs to adopt its proposed anti-discrimination directive which would ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in such areas as access to goods and services, housing, education, health and so on," he said.

The directive in question is currently being discussed by EU diplomats in a working group in the EU Council, but the Belgian EU presidency has signaled to the European Commission that there is not enough support for legislative action.

Opposition to the bill, which also covers discrimination against disabled people, is linked to the economy rather than Christian Democrat values.

Germany, for one, is worried that its small businesses will be forced to install disabled access or that family-run hotels will have to hire lawyers to fight off complaints by pro-minority-rights pressure groups.

The two governing parties have in their coalition agreement said the EU law is "not fit for purpose," despite the fact that Germany's finance minister is in a wheelchair and its foreign minister is openly gay.

"We are waiting for the commission to explain the economic repercussions of the directive. We understand the commission is doing some research. We fear there would be strong repercussions for small and medium-sized enterprises," a foreign ministry spokesman told this website.

A senior EU commission official explained that if Berlin requests a fresh impact assessment study, Brussels would be willing to do one.

But if Germany is waiting for the results of an ongoing commission study into the economic effect of three previous directives - on race, gender and anti-discrimination in the workplace - it will have to wait until late 2011 or early 2012. If it is waiting for a sustained economic upturn, Berlin could block the bill even longer.

"With the way the economy is today, people are frightened that voters will say 'Why are we putting another burden on our companies in these difficult times?'" the commission source said.

The contact noted that member states who oppose the bill could in theory be violating their commitment under the UN's 2008 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"There are millions of disabled people in the EU waiting for their rights. And there are increasing numbers of people over 70 who don't want to sit at home and watch TV. They want to move around. But if you want to do this in a town like Brussels [which has a prevalence for vertiginous stairwells to basement toilets in bars and cafes], then ... good luck!"

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