Mar 31, 2014

Debating Europe: My reactions to the debates so far



As We Are (the Youth & Student LGBTQQI Organisation) we are frequently being asked to contribute and actively participate in several debates which are being organised as we approach the MEP Elections in May. This is encouraging as it gives us the opportunity to ask specific questions related to the LGBTI community within a youth setting, as well as learn more about the views of, and interact with, several MEP candidates.

Paul Caruana Turner speaking (Credit: Insite Malta)

Debate 1: by Insite and GUG

The first debate we were invited to attend this month was organised by Insite and GUG, on the 15th March at the University Quadrangle. The MEPs on the panel were Miriam Dalli (PL), Cyrus Engerer (PL), Stefano Mallia (PN), Kevin Plumpton (PN) and Arnold Cassola (AD). Paul Caruana Turner (Vice-President) and Mina Tolu (President) fielded two questions on behalf of We Are.
Our questions were about ILGA-Europe’s Come Out Pledge and On the role LGBTI people’s human righst should have in EU’s external policy.
ILGA-Europe, a organisation working to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex people in Europe is asking candidates to sign a pledge which focuses on 10 key areas future MEPs can work on to promote human rights.  2 of the candidates on the panel have signed this pledge (Cyrus and Arnold) (and Therese Comodini Cachia and Roberta Metsola have also signed the pledgehttp://www.ilga-europe.org/home/how_we_work/european_institutions/ep2014/candidate/signed ).
The pledge includes pledges to complete EU anti-discrimination law, and promote an inclusive definition of family in EU policies.
Why haven't you signed the pledge? And would you be willing to sign the pledge to show a firm commitment to the rights of LGBTI individuals?”

and

“Following Uganda's strengthening of laws against homosexuals Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the World Bank suspended or diverted aid to Uganda.  
In your opinion, do you think that the European Parliament can and should take similar actions by pushing for an external policy which prioritises human rights and makes agreements conditional on the respect of these?”
It was encouraging to hear some interesting replies to both our questions; however it was clear that some candidates may have been a bit out of their depth when replying to questions on LGBT issues. However it seems that our aim with the questions was misinterpreted, as we were later asked to clarify why we (as We Are) believed aid should be suspended to Uganda. Our whole purpose of asking the questions was to see whether the candidates could react to, and come up with an answer on the spot, to a question they were probably not expecting.
Ultimately we do believe that cutting aid to Uganda would be a mistake, because the only people who would really be affected would be the vulnerable.  But that doesn’t mean that the EU shouldn’t apply some sort of pressure or attach terms to the aid.  The situation cannot be ignored, and perhaps rather than cutting aid the EU could look at imposing sanctions or embargoes on luxury goods.  It is the politicians in Uganda who passed the heinous law, so whatever measures the EU takes should target them.
Also in regards to the question on the ILGA-Europe pledge, if a politician truly believes in it, and believes that LGBT persons do not need to live with the constant fear of institutionalised or social homophobia, biphobia or transphobia hanging over their heads, then the politicians don’t require to make a strong statement and be showy of their support.  Signing a pledge is not the be all and end all of safeguarding LGBT individuals, other track-records also count, signing a pledge will only make the candidate accountable for anything they say or do when and if they are elected vis a vis these issues.

Panel at "Make Your Choice" (credit: LYV Malta)

Debate 2: by LYV Malta, KNZ, Agenzija Zghazagh

The second debate was organised by KNZ, LYV - Malta, and Agenzija Zghazagh, on the 20th March in the KSU Common Room at University. This debate was well attended by a number of MEP candidates in the audience, however the panel was meant to have members representing their parties rather than MEP candidates themselves. This however was not the case, as the representatives for the PN and the PL were two MEP candidates themselves; Jonathan Shaw, and Cyrus Engerer; on the other hand AD was represented by Ralph Cassar.
A number of organisations (KNZ, GWU Youth, Pulse, SDM, KSU, MMSA, AIESEC, GUG and We Are) were asked to field questions to the panel; and the audience was also allowed to ask questions or react to the answers.
Our question this time was a straightforward one;“Which LGBT issues do you feel should be tackled at a strictly national level, and which should also be taken up on an EU level?”
The replies varied; Ralph Cassar stated that as LGBT rights are Human Rights, than they should be discussed on a European level.  Jonathan Shaw stressed that they are to be discussed on a case by case basis. Cyrus Engerer waxed lyrical about the government’s achievements in this area, highlighting the differences between the parties, however failed to really reply to the question.
It is rather disappointing to hear that some candidates have specific set answers which they use whenever they hear certain keywords, regardless of the setting of the question. It was also frustrating that some representatives kept falling back onto the ‘blaming wagon’ and to highlight the lack of work by one party over another, rather than highlighting their possibilities, their abilities and their values.
On another note; at We Are, we enjoy meeting with MEP candidates and party representatives, and not just during debates. So far we have had the pleasure of speaking to Robert Metsola, Stefano Mallia, Therese Commodini Cachia and Kevin Plumpton on a number of issues on a face to face basis. If you too would like to meet us, and chat about the concerns of young LGBT persons in Malta, please get in touch with Emma Portelli Bonnici on secgen@weare.org.mt


 Written by: Mina Tolu

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