The European Parliament yesterday (25 November) approved the Swedish EU Presidency’s proposals for the next five-year plan on EU justice and home affairs. But MEPs failed to agree on controversial same-sex rights, while Italian MEPs secured an add-on to get extra funding for overcrowded prisons.
The Parliament supported the amended Stockholm Programme text by 487 votes to 122, amid 49 abstentions – notably from Green members. The agreement was sealed when a consensus was reached between the EU assembly’s ‘big three’ – its centre-right, socialist and liberal factions.
According to MEPs, the agreement, which outlined a broad blueprint for the next five years, will make for greater burden-sharing on immigration and asylum issues.
Parliamentarians made a number of more detailed proposals, notably calling for a directive and the introduction of a European strategy to tackle violence against women and child abuse.
MEPs agree to disagree on same-sex partnerships
On the issue of mutual recognition of civil partnerships – notably same-sex couples – across EU borders, MEPs failed to reach an agreement, reflecting what is a very sensitive debate, a Parliament spokesperson told EURACTIV.
Instead, a compromise amendment was framed between the socialists and the centre-right to guarantee freedom of movement for all EU citizens, including both married couples and those in registered partnerships “and to avoid all kinds of discrimination on any grounds, including sexual orientation”.
In so doing, MEPs effectively postponed a more detailed policy debate on this thorny issue. “This is a problem to be addressed in the coming five years – they left it be for now,” the spokesperson said.
Italians push for prison funding
Meanwhile, Italian MEPs from both left and right succeeded in having an add-on clause calling for EU funding to build new prisons in member states facing prison overcrowding.
Making this concession to the Italians was deemed necessary, as they have been the most vocal of the many Mediterranean countries which feel they carry a disproportionate burden when it comes to EU immigration and asylum pressures, the spokesperson argued.
Finally, the debate in Strasbourg gave a clear indication of the Parliament’s growing confidence in making its voice heard on these issues.
Reflecting this mood, Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot reminded MEPs that once the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, the European Parliament’s influence on these matters is likely to increase greatly, as co-decision (joint responsibility between the Parliament and European Council) will henceforth apply to a large swathe of Stockholm Programme policies.