Sarah speaks to the European Parliament about cross-EU recognition of same-sex partnerships

September 7, 2010 4:13 PM

Sarah Ludford, on behalf of the ALDE Group. - Madam President, some of the same features are in this debate as were in our earlier debate today on the expulsion of the Roma from France and, previously, from Italy. We have splendid principles in the Treaties and legal instruments of the EU - non-discrimination, equality, rights of minorities, human dignity, the right to family life and the right of free movement - but their implementation in the Member States leaves much to be desired and falls short of these values and commitments. The problem is that the Commission, which is the watchdog and guardian of the Treaties, all too often hesitates to pursue Member States for even quite serious and very serious breaches.

I am privileged to represent London, and therefore - I would say - one of the most progressive regions in Europe when it comes to gay rights. I am not claiming that my city, or even my country, is free of homophobic prejudice or discrimination - we do not yet have gay marriage - but we have made a lot of progress. But when my constituents with civil partnerships travel or move abroad within the EU, they lose their rights and legal status, as others have mentioned: inheritance, tax, social benefits, even the right to be treated as a partner are lost.

But the whole programme in an area that I work in a lot, which is European criminal justice, is rooted in the principle of cross-border mutual recognition - recognising and implementing legal decisions made in other EU Member States. So why not legal decisions on partnership or marriage, which is even more precise than the area of jam and widgets that my friend Sophie was talking about?

I therefore do not agree with Vice-President Reding, with respect, that the Free Movement Directive does not need amending. It does need amending, to remove the semi-discretion that Member States have to discriminate against couples where they are same-sex partners or spouses moving from another Member State. It therefore seems to me that we need action from the Commission. We have got to a sort of critical mass, even if one accepts this argument that you have to wait for social change. We have a critical mass of Member States which legally recognise same-sex couples.

It is time to introduce uniform treatment of those same-sex partners moving to another European country. In fact, a recent interesting judgment of the European Court of Human Rights suggested it might not be too long before that Court - the Court of the Council of Europe - insists that marriage be open to same-sex couples. It would be richly ironic if the EU had failed to act and we found ourselves upstaged by the Council of Europe when we claim to be the gold standard in our own self-definition compared to the Council of Europe.