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The organisation of a photographic exhibition relating to same-sex couples in a Commission building by ILGA Europe

Summary of the decision on complaint 1640/2011/MMN against the European Commission

The case concerns the organisation by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA Europe) of a photographic exhibition relating to same-sex couples hosted in a Commission building under the patronage of Vice-President Reding.

The Ombudsman included two allegations in his inquiry: (i) the Commission exceeded its powers and misused EU funds by placing the exhibition under its patronage, by hosting it, and by financing it; and (ii) the Commission insulted and discriminated against those EU citizens that do not share the views promoted by the said exhibition, given that the photographs included offensive language and the views it expressed were not shared by a considerable number of EU citizens.

In relation to the first allegation, the Ombudsman noted that the EU has no general competence in the relevant field. However, discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited under EU law.

As regards the specific facts, the Ombudsman's views may be summarised as follows. First, concerning the hosting of the exhibition, the content of the exhibition in question largely related to matters that fall within EU competence, although in some cases there may have been reasonable doubts. The Commission could, therefore, have displayed an appropriate disclaimer to that effect. The Ombudsman therefore made a further remark.

Second, although the Commission did not commit maladministration by co-financing the activities of ILGA Europe, including the exhibition in question, it could have provided more complete information to the complainant on this matter. The Ombudsman therefore made a second further remark.

Third, Vice-President Reding was entitled to place under her patronage an exhibition aimed at promoting non-discrimination on sexual orientation, a fundamental right recognised by the Charter. However, visitors may have been led to believe that the patronage implied the endorsement of the statements displayed. It was only during the Ombudsman's inquiry that the Commission explained that granting patronage was a 'political gesture' designed to raise awareness of a subject and does not imply endorsing any specific messages. Thus, to avoid any unnecessary confusion in the eyes of the public, it would have been appropriate for the Commission to issue a disclaimer on the matter. The Ombudsman addressed this aspect in his first further remark.

The second allegation had two aspects. First, as regards the allegedly offensive language, the complainant's view, that is to say, that at least one statement accompanying one of the photographs exhibited was likely to offend some EU citizens, was understandable. In view of the fact that the Commission had clarified that granting patronage did not imply its endorsement, the Ombudsman also addressed this point in his first further remark.

Second, as regards the alleged discrimination, the Ombudsman considered that the present situation was not comparable to another case mentioned by the complainant.

In view of this, the Ombudsman concluded that there were no grounds for further inquiries but made the two further remarks already mentioned.