Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Lithuania

Delivered in Plenary - 18th January 2011

Madam President

The EU is founded on the principle that all its citizens enjoy equal rights and freedoms. Every country that wants to become a Member State of the EU must commit to that principle and be signatory to the ECHR, not least with regard to sexual orientation.

When Lithuania joined the EU seven years ago, it pledged to uphold our common values of tolerance and equality. Since then, the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights – and I believe its Articles 12 and 21 – have come into force, further guaranteeing in law citizens’ freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation at EU institutional level.

As a spokesman for my party and group on human rights issues outside the Union, I can say categorically that the ECR upholds and endorses principles of equality, tolerance and diversity everywhere.

However, many Europeans do hold traditional views with regard to homosexuality, often based on religious conviction. Just as we seek to uphold the law to protect LGBT rights, so too should we seek to ensure that those who wish to express contrary, non-inflammatory, views within the bounds of the law regarding free speech should be free to do so as well.

Undoubtedly, Lithuanian society remains by and large conservative and we should understand that. People are entitled to their own private views, but at an institutional and legal level, we cannot compromise on the principle that we are all equal. Equality is a hallmark of our progressive society in Europe, and I believe in fact that the legal safeguards and individual rights guaranteed by the EU acted as a kind of magnet to countries such as Lithuania as they emerged from communist totalitarian domination.

I would therefore urge the Lithuanian authorities to reflect on the fact that the EU is committed to preventing the marginalisation, vilification and persecution of minorities that was so commonplace throughout Europe for the first half of the 20th century. The Commission should indeed look at this proposed draft Lithuanian piece of legislation and pronounce whether or not, in its opinion, this piece of legislation is compatible with EU law – although, as Simon Busuttil put it, it is entirely possible that this bill will not become law, as Lithuania is a democracy and is only too well aware of all the issues we are going to raise in this debate tonight.