Uploading Malta’s best to the EU | Cyrus Engerer

The Europe we live in, still needs work. By no means does the LGBTIQ Strategy give a one-size-fits-all solution to the many issues that LGBTIQ persons across Europe face

Helena Dalli
Helena Dalli

The Europe of today is not the Europe of yesterday.

If you were to tell European policy makers ten years ago that they would be implementing a strategy that protects the rights of rainbow families today, many would have called you outrageous. And yet, here we are being presented with a European wide LGBTIQ strategy that promotes diversity, protection against discrimination, and inclusivity at the workplace, in our homes, in our education, sporting events and general society.

As I read through the strategy, I cannot help but think that all of what the European Commission is proposing, sounds familiar. International protection for LGBTIQ persons, the recognition of trans, binary and intersex persons by the EU, and the encouragement of LGBTIQ mainstreaming of external and internal policies sounds a lot like the EU is picking up where Malta left off.

When I first became interested in politics it was because I decided to join the campaign for Malta’s accession to the EU. Back then, even though I knew Europe to be a place of tolerance and acceptance for gay men like me, I still would have never imagined it would come this far. This is because until just a few years ago LGBTIQ rights were seen as an internal affair, something left up to the Member States entirely.

But a few years ago something changed. The smallest EU Member State, a country known for its traditional views and Roman Catholic ideals, introduced the most progressive LGBTIQ policy in the world. This shift towards strong civil liberties safeguards lit a fire within Europe, and throughout the world by telling LGBTIQ communities and Governments that change was possible and the time had come. Malta set the global narrative for Governments to ban gay conversion therapy, to give trans people their rights, respect the dignity of intersex and non-binary persons, and to create legislative protections for the whole community.

This is reflected in the European Commission’s strategy. It is spearheaded by EU Commissioner, Helena Dalli, a woman who has been recognised and awarded globally and continuously, for her work on LGBTIQ Rights. And it is thanks to her and the fruit of a team of people who I had the pleasure to work with in the past, which has brought us here.

When the Labour government accepted the work of the Consultative Council I chaired on the world’s strongest pro-LGBTIQ legislation in the world the commitment was clear – guarantees for legal protection, recognition and solid equal rights for LGBTIQ persons.

We ensured that workplaces could not discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation or gender recognition, and more so, we were obliged to ensure protection and inclusivity for all. We ensured bodily autonomy, introduced measures against hate speech and made sure that we tackled inequality in all aspects – be it education or healthcare. Among others, GIGESC continues to be, the most progressive legislation in the world because it recognises LGBTIQ rights as human rights and nothing less. And while I am proud to be Maltese for a multitude of reasons- I am mostly proud to be Maltese because this is our normal today.

So when I read the European Commission’s new EU LGBTIQ strategy, and looked at all of the proposed policies which were so similar to what Malta had spearheaded, of course I felt national pride. The Commission’s new strategy takes Maltese principles to a European level. It helps fill in the legal gaps when it comes to cross-border rights for rainbow couples and families. It takes the principles of diversity and equality planted by Malta, and it grows them into principles which are being spread all across the world and makes equality a reality that we can benefit from.

The new EU Strategy is the fruit of the seeds planted by the Maltese LGBTIQ Consultative Council and the work of the ministry led by Helena Dalli, brought to Brussels by our people, and grown and flourished through discourse, through conversation and through dialogue. I find this heartwarming. It is a Europe where I want to live – a Europe which is able to listen to the huge ideas of little states and treat them no differently than those of larger ones. It allows me to believe that Europe is not about big states, but big ideas. And it gives me hope, for a better future.

But it also highlights an unfortunate juxtaposition on the contribution of Maltese political parties to the EU. In Europeanisation discourse, this is called the uploading of national policy to the EU-level. While having a number of shortfalls which have been addressed in the past 10 months, Labour managed to upload positive legislative changes on civil liberties (and others) to the European sphere.

While I am all for constructive criticism and for fixing what was wrong, what the Nationalist opposition has uploaded to the European realm is a sense of negativity on Malta, dedicating its efforts to a disproportionate focus on the country, while aiding others who are till now seen by the institutions as problematic democracies.

The Europe we live in, still needs work. By no means does the LGBTIQ Strategy give a one-size-fits-all solution to the many issues that LGBTIQ persons across Europe face.

We are still subject to violence in places like Plovdiv, Polish police are still locking up young people for hanging up rainbow flags and the EPP’s Orban has made it almost his life mission to take away the human rights of trans and intersex persons in Hungary. But the EU’s new policy sends a message. A message which started as just a whisper in the Labour Party’s policy rooms. A whisper, that we are now proud to bellow out to the rest of the world – as proud Maltese, and proud Europeans.