The EU Commission has written to Budapest detailing legal concerns over Hungary’s law that the EU executive says is discriminating against LGBTIQ people.
“The Hungarian bill is a shame,” commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday (23 June).
EU Commission vice-president Thierry Breton and justice commissioner Didier Reynders wrote to Hungary’s justice minister Judit Varga expressing legal concerns before the bill – ostensibly intended to protect children but including anti-LGBTIQ measures – enters into force.
The letter argues that the Hungarian bill breaches the EU’s audiovisual, e-commerce rules and the EU’s charter on fundamental rights.
“[…] What is a legitimate public interest has been used in a way that discriminates against people based on their sex and sexual orientation, departing from the values set out in Article 2 TEU, in particular the respect for human rights, freedom and non-discrimination,” the commissioners say in the letter.
“The provisions of this bill directly violate the prohibition of discrimination based on sex and on sexual orientation enshrined in Article 21 of the Charter, denying people the freedom to express themselves, hold their own opinion, and to enjoy their right to a private and family life,” it adds.
The commission asks the Hungarian authorities to now “clarify” the effect of the provisions.
“The bill clearly discriminates against people on the basis of sexual orientation and it goes against the EU’s fundamental value, human dignity, equality, human fundamental rights. We will not compromise on these principles,” von der Leyen said.
EU Commission vice-president Vera Jourova said on Tuesday, after a heated meeting of EU affairs ministers over the Hungarian law, that the commission is assessing whether and how the legislation breaches EU law.
She said the EU executive needs time to see if there is a breach of EU law, and find the proper legal basis as the legislation concerns education, freedom of expression, and the issue of discrimination.
The bill was passed by the majority of Hungarian parliament last Tuesday – with most opposition parties boycotting the vote – but it still awaits the signing by president János Áder, an ally of prime minister Viktor Orbán.
The commission’s letter is a warning before the executive actually takes action – such as an infringement procedure – as the legislation comes into force.
Orbán, for his part, rejected von der Leyen’s criticism.
“The statement by the president of the European Commission is a shame because it is based on false allegations,” he said in a statement, adding that the “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”.
Orbán said von der Leyen’s statement is a “a biased political opinion without a previously conducted, impartial inquiry”.
The issue will come up on Thursday when EU leaders gather in Brussels for their summit.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and other leaders are expected to raise their concerns. “This [LGBTIQ rights] should not be an issue in the EU,” one diplomat said.
On Tuesday, Varga defended the legislation arguing that it does not discriminate against anyone in society, and serves only to protecting children’s rights.
However, by Wednesday lunchtime, 17 EU countries joined a statement drafted by the Benelux countries condemning the legislation and urging the commission to take action.
On Wednesday, Austria, Cyprus and Greece joined Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden, and Latvia and the Benelux countries.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday criticised Hungary’s new law to ban the dissemination of materials in schools on homosexuality and gender change.
“I think this law is wrong and also not compatible with my ideas,” Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament.
She added that the bill was something she rejected politically, Reuters reported.
“I will use all the powers of the commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed whoever you are and wherever you live,” von der Leyen told press on Wednesday.