Smith Hails Step Forward for Civil Liberties and Equality

14 January 2009
SNP MEP Mr Alyn Smith has today welcomed a resolution of the European Parliament taking stock of the application of civil liberties and fundamental rights across the EU, which was today passed by the full Parliament in Strasbourg by 401 votes to 220.

The resolution has no immediate legislative force, but does become the formal position of the Parliament and will be instrumental in future legislation should any be brought forward.

The report was drafted by the Italian MEP Giusto Catania and examined the varying practices by member states in combating discrimination, dealing with immigration and refugees, and tackling poverty and gender equality.

Speaking after the vote, Mr Smith said:

"This is a useful report from Mr Catania, though it is important to recognise that it is of no immediate legislative effect, and the member states remain very much in charge of implementing their commitments. However, the promotion of civil liberties and equalities has been one of the real success stories of the EU and the Council of Europe, and it is right that we in this Parliament continue to play our part, keeping an eye on the Member States. Worryingly, the report finds that there is still a way to go, pointing out the "high number of fundamental rights violations in the EU" and promotes positive change.

"Catania commendably tackles discrimination at every level, taking into account minorities, equal rights, sexual orientation, the youth, elderly and disabled as well as groups discriminated on cultural grounds. He has also dealt with the issues of migrants and refugees, and looked into the rights of the child and the fight against poverty and homelessness.

"I applaud the Parliament for not taking heed of some influential groups pressing for their personal beliefs to be imposed on others. These included voices against the inclusion of discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender equality issues: in particular the rights of women to sexual education and the use of contraception. These are fundamental rights, and it is right and proper that such a majority of the Parliament has backed them. Individuals must have their rights to believe what they will, but these beliefs must not be used as justification for discrimination against any members of our community.

"This report is promising for our Gaelic and Scots speaking communities in Scotland. It stresses that EU policy should "protect and promote regional and minority languages by targeted funding and specific programmes". This may also spell good news for our substantial foreign language speaking minorities, such as Urdu, Mandarin and Polish.

"I am glad that the report stresses the importance of the media in promoting diversity, multiculturalism and tolerance. This is essential as part of education in these issues, both in Scotland and all over Europe."