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Strasbourg (France) (AFP)
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday warned Hungary to backtrack on its controversial LGBTQ law, as pressure mounts on Brussels to cut EU funding to Budapest.
Hungary’s strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban is facing a growing number of protests against the law, which is due to go into effect on Thursday.
Orban insists it is a measure to protect children, but critics say the law confuses pedophilia with homosexuality and generally stigmatizes support for the LGBTQ community.
Now Brussels is considering legal action against the EU member state and is also considering linking the disbursement of post-Covid recovery funds to the repeal of the law.
“It is a shame this legislation … It is something that goes against the values of the European Union,” von der Leyen, who heads the EU executive, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“If Hungary does not rectify the situation, the commission will use its available powers as guardian of the treaties.”
Hungary has for years defied the EU with authoritarian-style laws that critics say hamper free speech and threaten the independence of the country’s judicial system.
The European Commission launched several legal proceedings against Budapest, including a threat to take away its voting rights from the EU, but this came to nothing after Poland and Hungary blocked the process.
– Free to love ‘-
The latest dispute was over a law, called the “Anti-Pedophilia Law”, which was originally touted as tougher penalties for child abuse.
But its final draft contains amendments that include a ban on “posting or promoting” homosexuality to those under 18, and restrictions on sex education as well as media content.
“Europe will never allow parts of our society to be stigmatized, whether because of who they love, because of their age, ethnicity, political views or religious beliefs,” said von der Leyen.
Any legal action launched by von der Leyen would be supported by a majority of member states. This was made clear at a summit last month when EU leaders, led by the Netherlands, criticized Orban for the law.
Such a heated discussion was “not standard practice” for EU summits, EU Council chief Charles Michel, who hosted the summit, told MEPs.
“Our conversation was necessary, difficult and at times moving,” he said, proving that LGBTQ rights “are not a marginal issue.”
The commission is supposed to plan an infringement procedure, which amounts to a trial for non-application of EU law which can lead to fines imposed by the highest court in the bloc.
But MEPs called on the committee to use its new powers to withhold money from recovery from the coronavirus pandemic when their spending defies EU values.
These purse strings powers were part of a grand compromise reached by EU leaders last year when they approved the € 750bn ($ 900bn) pandemic stimulus fund. block – and were fiercely opposed by Orban.
Basing their argument on a report commissioned from three academics, MEPs said on Wednesday that the committee must go further to end the misuse of EU funds by Orban and his close associates.
“We want EU money to reach the Hungarian people and avoid reaching the pockets of the Orban family,” said Hungarian MEP Katalin Cseh.
– The far right defends Hungary –
Paolo Gentiloni, EU commissioner for economic affairs, told reporters in Brussels that talks are still underway to endorse Hungary’s seven billion euro ($ 8.3 billion) plan on how it will spend its EU funds .
He said the process includes questions on Hungary’s commitment to fight corruption and ensure transparency as well as the independence of the courts.
Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga denounced them as “new demands” which were “obviously” linked to LGBTQ law.
“Brussels cannot for any political reason withdraw what the Hungarians have worked for,” she tweeted.
MPs mainly backed von der Leyen’s harsh words for Orban and his threat of legal action, and are expected to back a resolution on Thursday asking the committee to suspend recovery funds.
But some far-right lawmakers, who are a significant political force in the European Parliament, have said they support Hungarian law.
French MEP Nicolas Bay of Marine le Pen’s far-right National Rally party called the targeting of Hungary “scandalous”.
“Hungary wants to protect its children from the illusion of gender theory. Budapest is right,” he said.
© 2021 AFP