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Marriage-definition proposal prompts EU reassessment

29 January 2016


President: Jean-Claude Juncker addresses the media at a press conference in Brussels, earlier this month

President: Jean-Claude Juncker addresses the media at a press conference in Brussels, earlier this month

THE successful registration of a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) procedure to define marriage under EU law as a union between a man and a woman has sparked a debate in the European Commission about the future of the procedure.

The Citizens’ Initiative is similar to a petition. It allows individuals to make legislative proposals that relate to an issue covered by EU law. If the proposal is supported by seven voters from seven different EU member states, it is registered by the commission, and the organisers then have one year to collect one million signatures from at least a quarter of all EU states.

If they are successful, the proposal will be debated by the European Parliament, and the commission will need to explain why it supports or opposes it.

The proposal Mum, Dad and Kids seeks to define “marriage” under EU law as a union between a man and a woman, and “family” as based on marriage and/or descent. The proposers say that the change is needed because the increased “fragmentation of the concepts of ‘family’ and ‘marriage’” causes a problem for the EU, where both terms are used in legislation, but where “the meaning is increasingly unclear.”

Last month, the European Commission First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, told commission members that the Mum, Dad and Kids proposal had reached the legal threshold for registration. He told commission members that registration was a “procedural step which was without prejudice to any follow-up in terms of the substance”.

The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that the decision to register a proposal was of a “purely legal nature”, and he re-emphasised that registration was “without prejudice to the subsequent stages of the procedure”.

The proposal had complied with the requirements, and the Commission was “therefore bound to register” it, he said. The commission would be able to “take a policy decision on the substance at a later date” if the proposal obtained the required number of signatures.

During the subsequent discussion, members of the EU Commission expressed concern about the “long-term political consequences” of the mechanism, which, they said, was promoting Euroscepticism by promoting “highly controversial and emotionally charged issues of greater interest to minorities than to the vast majority of EU citizens”.

The initiative, they said, “did not always move European law or the European project forward”. They called for a debate “on how to rectify this situation”.

Five proposals are currently open for signature under the ECI. In addition to the Mum, Dad and Kids proposal, the other suggestions relate to Hungary’s “anti-democratic, xenophobic measures” against asylum-seekers; the legalisation of cannabis; equal treatment for transport workers; and measures to prevent the dumping of plastics at sea.

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