EU countries split over Commission’s plan to give parents cross-border rights

The Commission wants to ensure that parenthood established in one country is recognised in all member states. [EPA-EFE/BORIS PEJOVIC]

The European executive is pushing for the recognition of parenthood in one country to result in bloc-wide recognition of familial ties, but the initiative could create a rift across the bloc due to the inclusion of rainbow families.

European justice ministers met on Friday (February 4) to exchange views on an EU proposal to recognise parental status across borders. According to the initiative, parentage links established in one EU country would be acknowledged in all member states. 

Parenthood and recognition rules currently fall under the competence of member states and vary significantly across the 27.

“We don’t intend to change competencies on this matter,” Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders told journalists after the informal council on Friday.

“We ask member states to have the interest of the child as their concern,” he said, adding that the lack of cross-border recognition could lead to unfair consequences for children in terms of free movement, healthcare, and education.

The Commission should put forward a proposal, either in the form of a legislative initiative or non-legislative measures – by the end of the year, he said.

Some countries, such as Ireland, are supportive and ready to welcome an initiative giving legal certainties to cross-border families, while others, like Finland, already recognise parenthood established elsewhere.

Slovenia, on the other hand, is more cautious. Still, it would support measures to protect the child’s best interest, including the right to identity and family life. Slovakia’s position is still uncertain, and it will wait for the EU proposal to be on the table to discuss it at the national level.

However, countries like Hungary and Poland are likely to block the initiative, which requires unanimous agreement, because of its implications for same-sex couples with children moving across the bloc.

Poland, for instance, is opposing the initiative because it would violate the country’s constitution, introducing same-sex parentage, which is contrary to the principles of Polish family law, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV.

Currently, same-sex couples with children may be refused legal recognition as their child’s parent in at least 11 EU countries, according to a report commissioned by Parliament’s Petition Committee.

EU legislation would ensure children’s rights are respected when moving within the EU and help “avoid deleterious consequences,” such as denying parents the right to give consent for surgery for their children, said French Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti.

Reducing bureaucracy

According to Sarah Den Haese, a researcher at Ghent University, the initiative would also help cut down bureaucracy in the member states when families exercise their right to free movement.

Some countries, like Belgium, have a conflict of law test requiring a thorough examination into the law applied in the foreign country before parenthood can be acknowledged. 

“A double job is being done, and it’s a little bit against the idea that we believe and trust the other EU member states are doing a good job,” she said.

Moreover, the proposal would help rainbow families [families comprising LGBTIQ parents] maintain their parental rights when they move to countries that do not allow same-sex marriage, avoiding ending up in a “legal limbo,” said Björn Sieverding from the Network of European LGBTIQ* Families Associations.

This was the case for the daughter of a same-sex couple born in Spain. The child was refused a birth certificate by the Bulgarian authorities because same-sex marriages and partnerships are not legally recognised.

The case was taken to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that if one country recognises a parental relationship with a child, this must be recognised in all member states to guarantee the child’s right to free movement.

“You can’t blame the children for the way parents became parents or for the sexual orientation of the parents,” said Sieverding, adding that the EU Fundamental Rights Charter already prohibits discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. 

According to Den Haese, the proposal could also encourage more EU countries to gradually adopt “a more open view” towards same-sex marriages.

“It’s not just about the couple that got married, but also about children and their best interest. And I think via the best interest of the child principle, member states could be obliged to offer recognition,” she said.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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