Local and regional decision-makers, who gathered virtually together for the 7th meeting of the European Committee of the Regions' SEDEC Commission on 22 April, have backed the European Parliament's resolution that declares the entire EU a LGBTIQ Freedom Zone. They called the European Commission to ensure that the fundamental values of the European Union are observed and that no municipality, region or state introduces systemic discriminatory mechanisms, such as "LGBT-free zones" or resolutions "against LGBT ideology" like those adopted by certain local and regional authorities in Poland.
The draft opinion presented by Kate Feeney (IE/Renew Europe), Member of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, welcomes the European Commission's LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025, which is part of the Union of Equality package. It emphasises the importance of mutual tolerance within communities and points out the need for concrete measures aimed at preventing and combating violence against LGBTIQ people and countering hate speech. It also calls the Commission to work on improving the position of rainbow families by rigorous application of cross-border family law and intensified dialogue.
"Fighting inequality in the EU is a shared responsibility that requires action at all levels of governance, as well as the active and permanent involvement of civil society, LGBTIQ organisations and advocacy groups. Local authorities can send a positive signal to their LGBTIQ communities by establishing ambitious pro-LGBTIQ policies. And while legal and societal change is a long-lasting process, it is even more important that cities and regions become pioneers of inclusion, rejecting bad examples of exclusion", rapporteur Kate Feeney said.
SEDEC commission chair Anne Karjalainen (FI/PES), Member of Kerava municipal council, said: "LGBT-free zones are incompatible with the very concept of our European Way of Life because they go against all the founding values of the EU. By applying a strict zero-tolerance policy to all forms of LGBTIQ-discrimination, local and regional authorities can make a real difference in their capacity as employers, providers of public services and the interface between people and the state".
MEP Pierre Karleskind (FR/Renew E.), who initiated the European Parliament's resolution declaring the entire EU a LGBTIQ Freedom Zone, pointed out that "local and regional authorities have a crucial role to play on LGBTIQ issues: they are at the forefront of promoting and fostering a welcoming attitude towards LGBTIQ people in every corner of our Union." MEPs Terry Reintke (DE/Greens-EFA) and Maria Walsh (IE/EPP), as well as a representative of ILGA Europe, also participated in the debate and shared this view.
Ms Feeney's draft opinion is scheduled for adoption at the October plenary session.
Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli will address the next CoR plenary session on 6 May when two more opinions linked to the Union of Equality package will be adopted: one on the EU anti-racism action plan 2020-2025 (rapporteur Yoomi Renström, SE/PES) and the other on the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 (rapporteur Daniela Ballico, IT/ECR). The latter draft opinion was discussed at Thursday's SEDEC meeting.
SEDEC is the CoR's Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research And Culture. Following two opinions were also adopted by the members:
Social Economy Action Plan
Rapporteur Mikel Irujo (ES/EA), Minister for Economic and Business Development of the Regional Government of Navarra, said: "It is essential to promote education for entrepreneurship through forms of social economy at all educational levels from primary school to higher education, including vocational training. In this regard, projects such as the Social Economy Business School, promoted by seven European regions within the framework of the Smart Specialization Platform, provide innovative solutions to this shortage in the training offer on social economy enterprises and aim to train competent professionals capable of accompanying and leading the growth of these enterprises and entities."
Future plan for care workers and care services – local and regional opportunities in the context of a European challenge
Rapporteur Heinrich Dorner (AT/PES), Member of the State Government of Burgenland, said: "The shortage of care workers affects us all in one form or another – it is a challenge for all cities and regions in the EU. We have to establish a transnational awareness of the problem and in some areas, we need a coordinated and holistic approach according to the motto: think together – learn from each other – act together."
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