Yielding to strong pressure from EU policymakers, the European Commission has taken against what is widely perceived as ongoing and intensifying discrimination against the LGBTIQ community by Hungary and Poland.
The legal action against Hungary concerns two cases, firstly the recent law prohibiting or limiting access to content that “promotes or portrays the so-called ‘divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality' for individuals under 18”.
And secondly, a disclaimer imposed by the Hungarian Consumer Protection Authority in January on a children's book with LGBTIQ content, stating that the book depicts forms of “behaviour deviating from traditional gender roles”.
Commenting, EU-Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders explained, “We decided to launch an infringement on the Hungarian law banning LGBTIQ content for individuals under 18. The Hungarian reply to my letter with [Internal Market Commissioner] Thierry Breton did not clear our concerns. Compliance with the principles of the EU Charter when EU law applies needs to be ensured.”
The Polish case refers to the authorities’ failure to “fully and appropriately respond” to the Commission’s inquiry into the so-called ‘LGBT-ideology free zones' resolutions adopted, since 2019, by several Polish regions and municipalities, as well as into their effects.
MEPs active on the issue welcomed the move, adding that it was long overdue. The co-chair of Parliament’s LGBTIQ Intergroup, German Greens/EFA deputy Terry Reintke responded saying, “The Commission has finally launched three strong cases against Hungary and Poland specifically concerning the values of the EU and the human rights of LGBTIQ persons at a crucial moment.”
“The measures undertaken by the Hungarian government to further stigmatise LGBTIQ persons are untenable, so we wholeheartedly welcome the Commission’s strong action. The lack of cooperation of the Polish authorities is also regrettable.
“The measures undertaken by the Hungarian government to further stigmatise LGBTIQ persons are untenable, so we wholeheartedly welcome the Commission’s strong action. The lack of cooperation of the Polish authorities is also regrettable.” Co-chair of the European Parliament’s LGBTIQ Intergroup, Terry Reintke
Veteran Irish EPP MEP Frances Fitzgerald tweeted: “Hate and discrimination are not what the EU stands for. Infringement proceedings from @EU_Commission are needed, but we also need @EUCouncil to move forward with Article 7 proceedings. European citizens cannot and should not accept this!”
During last week’s plenary session, the European Parliament adopted a resolution (with 459 in favour 147 against, and 58 abstentions) describing the Hungarian law as being “in clear breach of fundamental rights enshrined in the EU Charter of fundamental rights, the Treaties and EU internal market legislation”.
The Commission believes, Hungary’s so called “anti-paedophilia” law falls foul of several regulations and Treaty principles, including the Audio-visual Media Services Directive for breaching free cross-border provision of those services, the e-Commerce Directive for infringing its country-of-origin principle, and Treaty principles on the freedom to provide services (Article 56 TFEU) and free movement of goods (Article 34 TFEU).
Most importantly, however the Commission says the Hungarian law violates “human dignity, freedom of expression and information, the right to respect private life” as stated in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The other co-chair of Parliament’s LGBTIQ Intergroup, Socialist Group deputy Marc Angel (S&D, also commented on the Commission’s decision, saying, “We now have clear action to ensure this European Union is also a ‘Union of values’ which strongly defends Article 2 TEU.
The Luxembourgish MEP added, “We are ready to support the Commission in its endeavours and we will keep liaising with civil society, monitoring developments in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, and alerting the Commission to take action when and if action is needed. Never before have we seen such strong and united action by the Commission to defend the rights of LGBTIQ persons.”
“We won’t allow LGBTQ activists among our children and that hurts the EU Commission so much they began an ideological witch hunt. We’ve bad news though: the Hungarian Law on Child Protection does not conflict with EU law” Hungarian Justice Minister, Judit Varga
In the case of the Polish ‘LGBT-ideology free zones’, a practice that has raised concern and caused widespread condemnation since its inception two years ago and has been adopted by around a hundred towns and villages in the country’s strongly catholic east and southeast, the legal case seems less clear.
However, Poland made the crucial mistake of not taking the Commission’s inquiry into the matter seriously with the Commission saying in a statement, “Despite a clear call in February, to date the Polish authorities have failed to provide the requested information, manifestly omitting to answer most of the Commission’s requests.”
On Friday, Hungarian Justice Minister, Judit Varga, reacted on Twitter arguing, “I informed Commissioner Reynders that I had received their letter and we will answer since we’ve always stuck by the rules, unlike some institutions.”
“I also emphasised it is in all our interests to rather focus on what connects us and not on what destroys the Union.”
She added, “We won’t allow LGBTQ activists among our children and that hurts the EU Commission so much they began an ideological witch hunt. We’ve bad news though: the Hungarian Law on Child Protection does not conflict with EU law.”
Earlier, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called the Commission’s infringement procedure "legalised hooliganism".
Both Hungary and Poland now have two months to respond to the Commission’s arguments.
If they do not, or do so insufficiently, the next step would be for the Commission to issue what is known as a ‘reasoned opinion’, which would then pave the way for a referral of any of the three cases to the Court of Justice of the EU.