MEPs stand in rainbow-hued solidarity with Polish LGBTI community

The solidarity action in front of the European Parliament on Tuesday comes against a backdrop of mounting pressure on the EU to trigger an unprecedented mechanism against Poland that would effectively suspend its EU membership.
MEPs in solidarity with the Polish LGBTI community

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

16 Sep 2020

On Tuesday, Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup staged a protest in front of Parliament’s Altiero Spinelli building, with 32 MEPs dressed in different colours of the Pride flag.

The group said it had united in a cross-party display of solidarity to send the message that they will not tolerate the continued attacks on the LGBTI community in Poland.

LGBTI Intergroup co-president, Luxembourg Socialist Marc Angel, said, “We are in touch with activists and NGOs in Poland and we listen to their concerns. We are using every possible avenue to reflect this. We will continue to press the Council to stand up squarely for the defence of fundamental rights.”

The Intergroup’s co-chair, German Greens deputy Terry Reintke, said, “Every week the LGBTI Intergroup receives emails with the same question: what is the EU doing? Well, for the side of the European Parliament, be assured: we are standing by you.”

“We have called before and will continue calling on the Commission to start infringement procedures on the basis of EU values being at serious risk in Poland. You can count on our support.”

The demonstration took place after MEPs used this week’s plenary to galvanise support for fresh action against what is perceived as a serious breach of EU law by Poland on various fronts.

“Every week the LGBTI Intergroup receives emails with the same question: what is the EU doing? Well, for the side of the European Parliament, be assured: we are standing by you” Terry Reintke, LGBTI Intergroup co-chair

Poland has incensed many with its alleged attacks on the LGBTI community in the country as well as adopting controversial legislation which, it is claimed, represents an unprecedented attack on the independence of the country’s judicial system and its judges.

The demonisation of the LGBTI community by Polish government officials over the past two years has been relentless and Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the governing party, has repeatedly told supporters that Poles will not be forced “to stand under the rainbow flag.”

He has said that homosexuality represents a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state.”

Nearly 100 local governments, representing a third of Poland’s territory, have declared themselves “free from LGBT ideology.”

Monday’s parliamentary debate on the rule of law and attacks against the LGBTI community in Poland also discussed a report entitled “Determination of a clear risk of a serious breach by the Republic of Poland of the rule of law", authored by Civil Liberties Committee chair, Spanish Socialist Juan Fernando López Aguilar.

Speaking at a news conference in Parliament on the issue on Tuesday, López Aguilar said that after an “intense and lively” debate, he expected MEPs to back Article 7 proceedings being activated against Poland.

“We are in touch with activists and NGOs in Poland and we listen to their concerns. We are using every possible avenue to reflect this. We will continue to press the Council to stand up squarely for the defence of fundamental rights” Marc Angel, LGBTI Intergroup co-president

“Article 7 is an instrument to respond to a risk of a breach of EU law and, if enacted, it would mean that the EU will suspend Polish voting rights. I know that is unlikely to happen, but it is still a way for Member States to express their opinion on Polish violations of EU law,” he said.

On Wednesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, while not mentioning Poland by name, said in her State of the European Union address, “Breaches of the Rule of Law cannot be tolerated, be it press freedom or judicial independence. These values are more important than ever.”

To loud applause, she said, “LGBTI-free zones are humanity-free zones and they have no place in our Union,” adding, “We will soon table a strategy to strengthen LGBTI rights and also push for mutual recognition of families.”

Socialist leader Iratxe García Pérez, speaking during Wednesday’s debate in Parliament, said, “It is not enough just to call out breaches of the Rule of Law. It is unacceptable to have LGBTI-free zones. Such things are very dangerous and that is why the EU should start the Rule of Law mechanism against Poland.”

Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloș noted, “We must be loud and clear about our values. Rule of Law is not an alternative but a key principle for everyone.”

Speaking in the same State of the Union debate, Greens co-leader Ska Keller said she welcomed von der Leyen's “strong words” on the rights of LGBTI people in Poland adding, “we must now follow up with an infringement procedure.”

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has sought to defend the Polish position and said the EU’s decision to suspend funding for the six LGBTI-free zones was “unfounded and unlawful.”

He argues that “European institutions should respect the national identities of all member countries.”

On Thursday, MEPs are expected to back a cross-party resolution that will call on the Commission and Council to activate Article 7, which would lead to a suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the Council.

Article 7 was first launched against Poland in late 2017, but, to date, has not actually been activated.

The resolution is expected to highlight the “democratic backsliding and Rule of Law breaches” in Poland and to call on the Council and the Commission to “act to protect fundamental rights in the country.”

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