Open letter from Bulgarian NGOs on Bulgaria's candidacy to host the European Medicines Agency

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To:

Donald Tusk,
President of the European Council

Jean-Claude Juncker,
President of the European Commission

Antonio Tajani,
President of the European Parliament

Guido Rasi,
Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency

27 September 2017

Dear Sirs,

The reason for this letter is the candidacy of the City of Sofia to be the host to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) followed by a letter by a group of LGBT EMA staff members (dated 29 August 2017). With the letter, they expressed concerns regarding their rights after relocation of the headquarters of the Agency in a new Member State of the Union. In particular, in theirs letter, the Agency's LGBT employees expressed concerns about the possibility that the new headquarters of the institution could be in a Member State that does not recognize same-sex families legalized in other countries.

When submitting Sofia’s application, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Boyko Borisov, said that EMA employees and their families would be provided with smooth relocation in Bulgaria with access to excellent conditions in housing, education, health services and job opportunities. Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Health Miroslav Nenkov responded on 19 September 2017 to the concerns raised in the letter of the EMA employees saying that an LGBTI Pride Parade is held annually in Sofia. This failure by the Bulgarian government to recognize inequalities of LGBTI people in Bulgaria and the denial of the problems and challenges they face because of their sexual orientation or gender identity follows the Prime Minister Borisov’s statement of 22 June 2017 with regard to the 10th anniversary of Sofia Pride. Before Bulgarian media he said, “They should not snow off that much” and that it is “absurdity” if someone says that LGBTI people are persecuted in Bulgaria.

With this letter, we would like to point out that the concerns of EMA employees who are part of the LGBTI community are fully justified. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • Bulgarian government does not recognize neither marriage, nor any other form of legalisation of same-sex families, whether it is a family of a Bulgarian and a foreign citizen or of two foreign citizens. The same was stated in a letter dated 19 October 2011 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, sent for the purposes of the survey “From A to B: Comparative Survey in seven cases on the (non) recognition of same-sex couples moving from one European country to another” at the Law School of the University of Leiden (the Netherlands). In doing so, Bulgaria violates Directive 2004/38 / EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member State. The country refuses to treat families and same-sex partnerships as such and thus violates freedom of movement and undermines the fundamental principle of the European Union. We apply the letter of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry.
  • Bulgarian court refuses to provide protection of domestic violence for persons with a same-sex partner, as it interprets the concept of “de facto marital cohabitation” in Protection against Domestic Violence Act as referring to the definition of marriage, which in the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria and the Family Code is “a union between a man and a woman”. Therefore, according to the court ruling same-sex partners are excluded from the protection of the law (Court Order No. 26 from 07.10.2014 in case No 53154/2014 of Sofia City Court, applied here).
  • Bulgarian criminal law does not recognize hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity or gender expression. The Bulgarian Penal Code, Articles 162-166, only criminalizes crimes against citizens’ equality on the grounds of race, nationality, ethnicity, religion and even political convictions. The long-standing refusal of the Bulgarian legislature to recognize the homophobic and transphobic motives as elements of the crime that enhance the penalty often leads to a complete refusal of the authorities to investigate or prosecute such crimes. This issue is well documented by Amnesty International in two special reports, “Changing Laws, Changing Minds: Challenging Homophobic and Transphobic Hate Crimes in Bulgaria,”[1] and “Because of who I am: homophobia, transphobia and hate crime in Europe.”[2]
  • In March 2016, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published a report on the results of interviews with more than 1,000 people in 19 European Union Member States, including Bulgaria, on how the laws and policies focusing on LGBT equality can be effectively implemented in practice to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Participants in the survey were government or local government experts, law enforcement officers, education professionals and health professionals. Among the findings of the FRA are that law enforcement and policy officials often express prejudice towards LGBTI people; that the school curriculum contains no objective information on sexual orientation and gender identity; that many health experts still treat homosexuality as psychopathology; that the LGBT community is often invisible and this prevents many public servants from being aware of these groups’ problems and needs. The respondents stressed out the need for systematic capacity building, training and awareness of the rights and needs of LGBT people.
  • According to Rainbow Map (2016), the ILGA-Europe International LGBTI Assessment System, which shows the national legal and political situation in LGBTI human rights in Europe, Bulgaria accounts for only 24% (where 100% is “fully respected rights,” and 0% reflected the lack of adequate protection or recognition by law).
  • There is no statutory procedure for changing one’s legal gender in Bulgaria. For this reason, gender recognition of persons who do not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth is possible only by court decision. This leaves a number of issues unresolved, such as the civil registration of persons in transition whose appearance does not correspond to the gender indicated in their personal documents. Moreover, Bulgaria’s healthcare system is lacking any specialized health services for transgender and intersex people and health human resources do not receive any training for working with and ethical treatment of people from this patient population.
  • According to data from Special Eurobarometer 437 on Discrimination in the EU in 2015 only 17% of Bulgarians are supporting the claim that same-sex marriages should be allowed throughout Europe (with 61% on average for the EU). Parliamentary represented political parties since 1989 either openly oppose this or avoid taking a position.

We, the signatories of this letter, LGBTI and human rights organizations, are in solidarity with the EMA staff's request the EMA Operation Relocation and Preparation Task Force to consider the legislation of the bidding Member States on the recognition of LGBT rights when choosing the host of the agency, where this legislation is resulting in a less favourable treatment of LGBT individuals compared to non-LGBT individuals. At the same time, we urge the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria to take immediate measures to discuss the issues raised and to set up a working group with the inclusion of LGBTI organizations in order to overcome the inequality of LGBTI citizens and foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria as well as the obstacles to the hosting of European agencies on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria in future.

We are ready to cooperate with our expertise as representatives of LGBTI communities in Bulgaria and as human rights defenders.

Yours sincerely,

Veneta Limberova,
Youth LGBT Organization “Action”

Simeon Vassilev,
GLAS Foundation

Monika Pisankneva,
Bilitis Resource Center Foundation

Krassimir Kanev,
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

c/c
Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria



[1] Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur15/001/2012/en/.

[2] Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/014/2013/en/.