Infringement proceedings begun against Germany over Berlin’s failure to bring provisions on equal treatment of gay and lesbian partnerships in line with EU directives on the issue are going down badly with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
Vladimír Špidla, EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, has started an infringement procedure against Germany and eleven other member states for failing to implement EU equal opportunities legislation correctly.
In an 11-page letter sent to the German government on 31 January, the Commissioner asks for higher standards on the following issues:
- Better job protection for people with disabilities.
- Liability of employers in cases of discrimination. German employers have to pay damages to workers complaining about discrimination in less than ten percent of all cases.
- Special rights for religious communities. Churches can currently insist upon only hiring staff who are members of their own religious community.
- Equal rights for homosexual couples. The “registered lifetime partnership” which gays and lesbians can enter into does not bestow the same privileges as marriage, which remains an option available to heterosexual couples only. For example, it does not offer officials the same entitlement to higher pay as under heterosexual marriages and people living in such partnerships are not entitled to receive part of their partner’s pension when he or she dies.
All four issues are contentious for the Christian Democrats (CDU) and in particular with their Bavarian branch, the Christian Social Party (CSU). The group formed by the two parties (CDU-CSU) is the senior partner in Angela Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’.
Anti-discrimination legislation touches on the fragile balance within Merkel’s coalition: The Social Democrats, the junior partner in the government, and the social wing of Merkel’s own CDU are both favourable toward stricter standards, while those in Merkel’s party who chiefly support business interests are opposed to more obligations for employers and higher risks in cases of infringement.
The Christian-Conservative wing of the party, which is particularly strong in Bavaria, is opposed to touching upon Christian churches’ privileges, including tax collection, which other religious communities – including the more than three million Muslims – do not benefit from. Most Christian Democrats already considered existing German legislation on anti-discrimination as a step too far.