THE COUNCIL of Ministers has been accused of hypocrisy over gay rights by preaching equality - but practising discrimination against its own staff.
In the week that the EU's biggest member state, Germany, legalised gay marriage, MEP Sarah Ludford has attacked the Council for refusing to give a gay fonctionnaire the same rights as a married person - even though he has a registered partner.
The UK Liberal has written to Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, currently president of the Council of Ministers, asking him to intervene. "It is unacceptable for the Council to fail to implement equality laws that it rightly enforces in member states," she writes. "How can the EU institutions have credibility if they say one thing and do another?"
Ludford's comments were prompted by a ruling in the European Court of Justice involving the Swedish official, who argued that he should be entitled to the same household allowance as a married man.
The complainant pointed out that in his home country his registered relationship has the same legal status as marriage.
But the Court of Justice ruled against him, stating that Council chiefs had correctly implemented staff regulations as they stand.
The judges also said that the EU institutions did not have a moral obligation to change their rules because they were not out of step with the majority of member states, which do not recognise gay partnerships as the equivalent of marriage. "The existing situation in member states of the community as regards recognition of partnerships between persons of the same sex or of the opposite sex reflects a great diversity of laws and the absence of any general assimilation of marriage and other forms of statutory union," they ruled.
But Ludford says this is not good enough. She argues that if the Union is to be the driving force in the fight against discrimination, proposing legislation such as last year's equal treatment directive, then the EU institutions must lead by example.
Neil Kinnock, the reform chief, is planning an overhaul of the staff regulations. Officials say this could include setting up a system for registering all partnerships - including gay ones - to determine how benefits are allocated. "However there could be legal implications for the individuals concerned in their country of origin and these need to be studied before any concrete proposals can be made," said Kinnock spokesman Eric Mamer.
The Court of Justice decision has been attacked by the International Lesbian and Gay Association of Europe. Its co-chairman Kurt Krickler said: "We were quite appalled by the court's ruling."
He claimed that by not treating gay employees equally the institutions were in breach of the Charter of Fundamental Rights agreed by EU leaders at the Nice summit in December. "It was quite amazing that the court did not refer to the charter in its decision. What was the point of adopting the charter in Nice if they don't want to apply it?"
But he predicted that as more member states adopt legislation on same-sex marriages the EU institutions would risk looking ridiculous and would eventually have to change.
Gay couples wed for the first time in Germany yesterday (1 August) under new federal laws.
Heinz Friedrich Harre and Reinhard Luechow became the first men to tie the knot following a ceremony in Hanover. Two women, Gudrun Pannier and Angelika Baldow, wed earlier in Berlin.
The länder of Bavaria, Saxony and Thüringen are contesting the law in court, claiming it undermines the constitutional protection of the family.
Gay couples can also marry in the Netherlands. Belgium and Finland are also set to relax laws to allow same-sex weddings.
The Council of Ministers has been accused of hypocrisy over gay rights by preaching equality, but practising discrimination against its own staff.
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