Speech by Commissioner Vladimír Špidla at the international conference on LGBT rights in Montreal

Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to be able to take part in these first world “Outgames”, at least as a speaker, for I think that events like this help to raise the profile of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities across the world through sport.
Please allow me to begin my speech with a personal comment. Throughout my working life, in which I have occupied a very wide variety of posts, ranging from manual worker to Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, I have always considered it my duty to respect the equality and dignity of all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation, and to see to it that they are respected.
Actually, I have always taken the view that respect for the rights of persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, is one of the main criteria for respect for human rights in general. That is why, when I was Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, I brought before the national parliament a draft law on homosexual partnerships, which was adopted after years of difficult negotiations.
Let me assure you, from the outset, that I am still driven by this concern to guarantee respect for equality and human dignity as the Member of the European Commission responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.
I am particularly pleased to see that there will be a session devoted to Europe because it took a long time for homosexuality to no longer be considered to be something deviant that had to be repressed. Europe is notorious for one of the greatest genocides of the twentieth century and the most systematic extermination of homosexuals. Thus, between 1933 and 1945, more than 100 000 people were arrested in Germany because of homosexuality, and some of them died in the Auschwitz extermination camp to which they were deported.
The post-War period was marked by secret homosexuality against a background of covert repression. I know that it was a period of great suffering for many. Finally, when sexual liberation came, gay communities throughout the world were hit very hard by the terrible scourge of AIDS. As a result, they were the victims of renewed discrimination on the basis of their sexuality and because they were sero-positive.
It is a sad fact that, at the start of the twenty-first century, in certain parts of the world people are still being persecuted, and sometimes even killed, because of their sexual orientation.
In Europe, despite the progress achieved in combating discrimination, the situation is far from ideal. Most often it is a case of individuals discriminating against other individuals but, here and there, certain political statements reveal institutionalised discrimination.
It took a long time for the European Union to tackle the question of combating discrimination, which, until recently, was an area for which the Member States were exclusively responsible. Since then, many measures have been adopted at European level, which I shall present to you now. I shall then go on to talk about our plans in this area.
Directive 2000/78/EC
In 1999 a new Treaty entered into force, introducing new provisions on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, among other grounds. The European Union was then able to adopt, the following year, that is to say in 2000, legislation banning any discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation in the areas of employment and vocational training. This legislation covers access to employment, working conditions, remuneration and rights and benefits in relation to employment.
The Member States had a period of three years in which to adopt all the national measures needed to apply the provisions of this European legislation.
In 2004, ten new Member States from central and eastern Europe joined the European Union and, as a result, accepted the acquis communautaire, in other words all the texts adopted since the beginning of European integration, including the legislation that I have just mentioned.
The European Commission is currently examining the implementation of this text and will draw up a public report on this matter.
I should like to stress that, for me, it is not just a question of the role of the European Commission as “guardian of the Treaties”, for I am personally committed to do everything that I can to ensure that the legislation on non-discrimination is complied with by ALL the Member States. The European Commission takes account of the legitimate differences between the legal and institutional traditions of the Member States and respects their right to choose their own ways of implementing the legislation. However, I would like to make it clear that the Commission will not tolerate ANY omission of sexual orientation as a ground for discrimination. If that were to be the case, our response would be quite categorical, as I have shown following the omission of sexual orientation by Latvia.
Anti-discrimination programme
In 2001 the European Union also adopted a Community anti-discrimination programme, which was designed to support the efforts of the Member States to combat discrimination. This programme has three objectives:
  • firstly, to find out more about the extent and impact of discrimination,
  • secondly, to strengthen the ability of the players concerned to combat discrimination effectively, and
  • thirdly, to increase awareness of the values that are of fundamental importance for combating discrimination.
The many diverse activities supported by the programme include three that I should like to mention because I consider them to be particularly important. Firstly, a major European information campaign was launched in June 2003 entitled “For Diversity – Against Discrimination”. This campaign is designed to convey a positive message about diversity through a wide range of channels, such as television or printed advertisements, seminars, media events and information brochures, and about the new European legislation on combating discrimination in the various Member States.
Moreover, under the anti-discrimination action programme, the European Commission is financing four networks of European NGOs, including ILGA-Europe, that represent the victims of discrimination and defend their rights.
Lastly, over the period 2004-2006, the Community Action Programme is supporting 25 transnational measures covering all grounds of discrimination, including sexual orientation. Several NGOs representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities are involved in various projects.
2007: European Year of Equal Opportunities for All
The most carefully crafted legislation will not be enough to eradicate discrimination unless it is underpinned by clear political will and enjoys popular support. The Commission therefore proposes designating 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. The Year is the key plank of the anti-discrimination strategy that the Commission put forward in June 2005.
The Year has two main objectives:
  • to make public opinion aware of the advantages of a just society that gives each person the same opportunities, regardless of sex, ethnic or racial origin, religion or belief, abilities, age or sexual orientation;
  • to highlight the advantages of diversity as a source of socio-economic vitality that Europe must acknowledge and exploit because this diversity enriches its social fabric and makes an essential contribution to its prosperity.
In addition to the twenty-five Member States, the European Year of Equal Opportunities for all is open to the countries applying to join the European Union and several of the European Union’s neighbouring countries, so that, all in all, the Year should take place in nearly forty countries.
However, we all realise that much remains to be done to combat discrimination.
What remains to be done
As I said at the beginning of my talk, the legal provisions that currently exist at European-Union level for combating discrimination only cover employment in the broad sense, except for discrimination based on race or ethnic origin.
In order to meet the expectations of certain Members of the European Parliament and certain NGOs, the European Commission is considering the feasibility of a new proposal for a directive extending the scope of protection against discrimination that would cover more than just employment.
A feasibility study has already been launched. It is looking at the national provisions of the Member States and certain third countries that go beyond the requirements set out in Community directives. It will assess the merits of the various legal and other measures. The results of this study will be available in December 2006.
Above all, it is necessary to continue to combat stereotypes and prejudices in all possible ways. Homophobia is a prejudice that I consider to be particularly revolting and unjustified.
Any statement about the dangers of a “homosexualisation of society” or the “contagious nature of homosexuality” must be considered to be equivalent to the anti-Semitic ravings about the so-called Jewish conspiracy of world domination. Homophobic statements are equally absurd, paranoid and dangerous. Unfortunately, we have heard too many statements of this kind in the recent past. There is NO place for such language of hatred and exclusion.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, equality means no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In our history there have been periods, cultures and civilisations that have been more or less tolerant, but I believe that, today, only full equality and dignity can be considered to be acceptable. I am pleased to say that the European Union is contributing to full equality for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, but I am more convinced than ever that there is still work to be done in this area and that further progress can be achieved.
Thank you for your attention!