European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (7 July) warned Hungary to reverse course on its controversial LGBTQ law, as pressure mounts on Brussels to cut EU funding to Budapest.
Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s strongman premier, is facing a mounting chorus of protest over the law, due to go into effect on Thursday, which he insists is a measure to protect children.
Now, Brussels is considering legal action against the EU member state, and is considering linking the disbursement of post-Covid recovery funds to its repeal.
“It is a disgrace this legislation… It is something that flies in the face of 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 powers available as the guardian of the treaties,” she added.
Hungary has for years defied the EU with authoritarian-style laws that critics say hamper free speech as well as threaten the independence of the country’s judiciary.
The European Commission has launched several legal procedures to push back against Budapest, but these have gone nowhere after Poland and Hungary blocked the process, which requires unanimity among the 27 member states to continue.
At issue now is a law, titled the “Anti-Paedophilia Act”, that was originally billed as toughening punishments for child abuse.
But its final draft contains amendments that critics say conflates paedophilia with homosexuality and generally stigmatises support for the LGBTQ community.
“Europe will never allow parts of our society to be stigmatised, be it because of whom they love, because of their age, their ethnicity, their political opinions, or their religious beliefs,” von der Leyen said.
Any legal action launched by von der Leyen would be backed by a majority of member states. Last month EU leaders, led by the Netherlands, upbraided Orbán at a summit.
EU Council chief Charles Michel, who hosted the summit, told MEPs that such a heated discussion was “not a common practice” for EU summits.
“Our conversation was necessary, difficult, and at times emotional,” he said, proving that LGBTQ rights “are not a marginal issue”.
The commission is understood to be planning an infringement proceeding, which amounts to a lawsuit over failure to implement EU law that can lead to fines inflicted by the bloc’s top court.
But MEPs have urged urged for the commission to use its new powers to hold back recovery cash when their spending of European funds defies EU values.
These powers over the purse strings were part of a great compromise landed by EU leaders last year when agreeing the bloc’s 750 billion recovery fund, and were fiercely resisted by Orbán.
Paolo Gentiloni, the EU’s economics affairs, told reporters in Brussels that discussions to approve Hungary’s seven billion euro plan were still underway.
The process includes questions over Hungary’s commitment to fighting corruption and ensuring transparency and the independence of the courts.
Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga denounced these as “new demands” that were “obviously” related to the LGBTQ law.
“Brussels can’t take away for any political reason what Hungarian people have worked for,” she tweeted.
MEPs mostly backed von der Leyen’s tough words for Orbán and her threat of legal proceedings, though far-right lawmakers said they supported the Hungarian law.
French MEP Nicolas Bay of Marine le Pen’s National Rally party called the targeting of Hungary “scandalous”.
“Hungary wants to protect its children against the delusion of gender theory. Budapest is right,” he said.