Saturday, May 03, 2008

Save the Horizontal Directive

Now is an urgent time for action to save the so-called horizontal Directive on discrimination in areas outside employment (i.e. in goods and services).

This would therefore cover race, gender (already covered through separate Directives), disability, age, religious belief and sexual orientation.

These seems to be being blocked by Germany and, seeing they actually have a General Discrimination Law covering sexual discrimination it seems somewhat perverse to oppose a new Directive on these grounds.

Many other EU countries enjoy a high level of protection from discrimination in areas outside employment and the development of piecemeal discrimination law is prfoundly harmful, especially as new countries join the EU - there needs to be a clear common standard to protect citizens of EU countries from discrimination.

This move is supported by many EU countries of different political colours as well as being supported by the ETUC and ILGA-Europe.

Also see the website of the Lesbian and Gay Intergroup at the Europan Parliament.


Those election results

What a catastrophic night (two nights actually) for Labour. There is such a thing as mid term blues but here we are reaching a new level.

No amount of gloss can hide that the electorate (or part of it - though last year's results were no better) is serving notice on the Labour Party.

The loss of London caps it all.

Yet now is not the time for panic or dismay, though this advice is paradoxical and may not find much favour in politics 'out there'.

Political parties are functioning entities. They don't die (although the Liberals might be an exception to that, though even they have come back from the dead, rather proving the point). They go on and carry on achieving things that are important to them whether in government or opposition.

Panic will only make things get worse and of course it is difficult to resist the temptation to "go off on one" as the Tories and Labour have done in their time in Opposition, making it all the more difficult to win again.

Our policies are what got us elected 3 times in a row and scrabbling about now isn't going to turn the tide. Now is not the time for fiddling and fudging.

It may be that the country has tired of the current Government and wants to "let the other guys have a go - What's the worst that can happen?". That sentiment is in any case hard wired after three terms in a country like ours where we don't have either a Conservative or Social Democratic consensus which sustains one party rule for extended periods (even Sweden has elected a Centre Right Government).

So - unlike Zimbabwe - what the French call the 'alternance', the surest sign of a country actually being a healthy democracy may be about to happen (already has happened in Scotland and London).

There is only one thing we can do for the remaining two years and unusually this is entirely in our own power and that is to carry on governing and govern well.

Those kind of governments are the ones that miraculously escape come election time, coming through at the very last minute and actually after three terms in office those are the only victories on offer.

It may come down to the economy righting itself and the Tories being unable to produce a coherent Manifesto (which they certainly can't). But we should be reconciled to being completely written off by all commentators and if we win we will do so by our stamina and ability to just get on with the job. If we don't win we will have governed well and be ready to return to power when the Tories' promises (like the rather odd promises to bring back the Routemaster and make the lights stay on green for longer) turn to dust.

As Peter Hyman said on Newsnight lastnight - the last thing Gordon Brown needs to do is to go around listening to people. We need to govern and govern well.

It comes down to panic v. governing and the real test is which one of those two the Labour party chooses in the coming months. It's a test which is momentous, partly about leadership, partly collective but one that will define the future of the country over the next 15 - 20 years.

Our response to these testing times lies entirely in our own hands.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Recent European Court decisions

Thought I'd include some links about a few recent important cases from European Courts.

There are of course two different European Courts which often get confused.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the Court that decides on the application of EU law, whereas the European Court of Human Rights (as the name implies) is a Court which rules on the European Convention on Human Rights for states who have ratified it.

The ECJ sits in Luxembourg and the ECHR sits in Strasbourg.

The recent ECJ case was a ruling against Germany for failure to respect non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation as regards pension rights (where these relate to pay and therefore the sphere of employment) for same sex couples. Good link on the ILGA-Europe site.

Summary of judgment here.

The most recent ECHR case was a ruling against two UK sisters who claimed they should be given the same treatment as Civil Partners in the exemption from inheritance tax.

I blogged about the case at an earlier level where there was a 4-3 judgment against. The hearing of the full court found against them 15-2. BBC report here.Also summary of the case on the ECHR website here.

This case cuts two ways. One cannot, looking at the case, avoid there being a sense of unfair treatment that ought to be remedied. To do so by a Human Rights ruling would have had massive implications for tax law in particular the ability of siblings and other relatives to evade inheritance tax.

But it would also have meant that there was a broader Human rights protection for all couples (inlcuding same sex couples without formal legal protections) in the case fo death of one of the 'partners'.

Although the ruling was massively against the two sisters I do think there is a potential argument there that a future Court might want to return to and in the meantime something that Parliament should try to remedy in some way.

In the mean time it is interesting that the European Court of Human Rights is continuing to develop its thinking on the topic of same sex partnership which will be important in future rulings on same sex partnership rights.