Brussels has launched legal action against Hungary over a controversial new law that has been widely condemned as discriminatory and anti-LGBTIQ.
The political row began last month when Hungarian MPs passed the Children Protection Act, with the stated purpose of safeguarding children”s wellbeing and fighting paedophilia.
But, as part of the overall text, lawmakers from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party introduced an amendment that prohibits the portrayal of homosexuality and gender reassignment in content, like school education material and television programmes, that is addressed to minors.
The text has unleashed a political storm, with a majority of EU countries, together with the European Commission and the European Parliament, joining forces to denounce its anti-LGBTIQ nature.
The European Commission is now taking legal action, arguing the Hungarian legislation runs counter to several EU laws and principles.
It also says the law violates human dignity, freedom of expression and information, the right to respect of a private life as well as the right to non-discrimination.
A formal notice is the first step in an infringement procedure.
The European Commission has now given the Hungarian government two months to reply. If the response is not considered satisfactory or doesn’t materialise, Brussels will resort to a so-called reasoned opinion: a request to comply with EU law. If Hungary refuses to cooperate, the matter could be referred to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
The Hungarian government insists the law doesn’t discriminate against any particular community and its sole purpose is the protection of children.
“The recently adopted Hungarian bill protects the rights of children, guarantees the rights of parents and does not apply to the sexual orientation rights of those over 18 years of age, so it does not contain any discriminatory elements,” Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s Foreign Affairs Minister, said last month.
Another separate infringement procedure tackles a decision by the Hungarian Consumer Protection Authority that obliges the publishers of children’s books presenting LGBTIQ people to include a disclaimer for depictions of “behaviour deviating from traditional gender roles”.
A third legal action, also initiated on Thursday, accuses Poland for its “lack of cooperation” with the Commission’s investigation into the country’s “LGBT-ideology free zones”, which have been established in several Polish municipalities and regions since 2019.
‘This law is shameful’
Controversy over the legislation has played out in full public view, even spilling over into the Euro 2020 football tournament.
The amendment has been lambasted by civil society organisations for breaching fundamental rights and perpetuating a damaging stereotype that conflates paedophilia with homosexuality.
A group of 16 member states described it as a “flagrant form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression” that stigmatises LGBTIQ people.
The outrage came to a boil during a tense European summit where Orbán was left isolated and corralled by his fellow colleagues.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, went as far as suggesting that Hungary should leave the European Union.
“They behave like colonialists. They want to dictate what laws should take effect in another country, they want to tell us how to live our lives and how to behave,” Orbán told a Hungarian media days after the meeting.
The European Commission, considered the guardian of EU treaties, has been vocally opposed to the legislation.
“This law is shameful. It goes utterly against the fundamental values of the European Union – the protection of minorities, human dignity, equality and respect for human rights,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament earlier this month.
“I shall use all the instruments at the Commission’s disposal to defend these principles.”
The start of the infringement procedure coincides with the review of the recovery and resilience plans that member states have submitted to the Commission in order to access the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. The executive missed the two-month deadline for evaluating the Hungarian €7.2 billion plan and has requested an extension.
While the anti-LGBTIQ amendment and the recovery plan are not connected – the law passed weeks after the plan was submitted – the political outrage has forced the two issues to converge, putting the Commission in a difficult position where a negative evaluation could add fuel to the anti-Brussels rhetoric of Orbán.
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