‘A shame’: Von der Leyen vows EU will fight Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ+ law

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday announced initial legal steps against Hungary’s new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, pledging to use “all the powers of the Commission” to protect EU citizens’ rights.

“The Hungarian bill is a shame,” von der Leyen said Wednesday morning in Brussels at a press conference with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, held to discuss the approval of Belgium’s coronavirus recovery plan.

The controversial bill, adopted by the Hungarian parliament last week, bans portraying homosexuality and gender transitioning in content for minors. Sixteen countries have now endorsed a statement asking the Commission to take action against the law.

Von der Leyen on Wednesday said she would do just, instructing two of her commissioners to write a letter to the Hungarian government “expressing our legal concerns before the bill enters into force.” Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton will prepare the memo.  

“I strongly believe in a European Union … where you are free to love who you want, and I believe in a European Union that embraces diversity,” von der Leyen said. “So 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’s announcement marks a further escalation of tensions between Brussels and Budapest, which are already locked in a fierce battle over Hungary’s democratic backsliding. The EU has started Article 7 disciplinary proceedings against Hungary over its concerns, but the process has been stalled for years. Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has argued that Brussels should not interfere in national political decisions, which he says should have primacy over EU law, and blasted what he calls the “Sovietization” of the EU.

Von der Leyen on Wednesday stated explicitly that the Hungarian LGBTQ+ law violates the EU’s core principles.

“This bill clearly discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and it goes against all the values, the fundamental values, of the European Union,” she said. “This is human dignity, it is equality and it is the human fundamental rights. So we will not compromise on these principles.”

Von der Leyen’s remarks where followed by applause in the audience, which was started by Thomas Dermine, a Belgian state secretary responsible for the country’s recovery plan.

Von der Leyen did not specify what specific legal steps the Commission would take, but the most likely scenario is that the Commission will launch an infringement procedure against Hungary. The first step in such a process is to send Budapest a letter expressing the EU’s protest.

“It’s a detailed political letter that will set out our legal concerns with the law,” said a Commission official. “We can only formally infringe once the law has come into force, so we are warning the Hungarians that we will do so if they don’t respond to our concerns.”

If Hungary does go forward with the law, the Commission can formally order Hungary to stop the bill’s implementation via an infringement procedure. Provided Hungary does not comply with that request, the case could be sent to the European Court of Justice. The court could then rule that Hungary must annul or amend the law — and impose a financial penalty if Budapest does not obey.

The Hungarian law attracted has wider public attention across Europe and the world after UEFA, Europe’s football governing body, forbade the city of Munich from lighting its football stadium in rainbow colors when Germany plays Hungary on Wednesday — a move meant to protest the new legislation and instead display “a sign of tolerance and cosmopolitanism.”

Barabara Moens contributed reporting.

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