The EU is ready to “go to court” if Hungary goes forward with its controversial law banning the portrayal of homosexuality to minors, Didier Reynders, the European justice commissioner, said Thursday.
Reynders’ remarks offered more clarity on the Commission’s strategy to take on Hungary over the issue, a day after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s vowed to fight the law. Speaking to reporters at a gathering of liberal leaders prior to the EU leaders’ summit, Reynders said the EU was ready to launch “an infringement procedure” against Hungary if needed, a process that could end with Hungary facing financial penalties.
The bill, passed last week in the Hungarian assembly, has sparked outrage all over Europe. Von der Leyen on Wednesday called it a “shame” and said she was sending a letter to Hungarian authorities outlining the Commission’s view. On Thursday morning, 17 European countries endorsed a call to “continue fighting against discrimination towards the LGBTI community,” asking the Commission to act.
The Commission’s first step came when Reynders and Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, sent their letter to Judith Varga, Hungary’s justice minister, asking for clarifications to a bill they see as violating European values and legal texts.
Reynders on Thursday said he would first wait until “the end of the month” to get an answer to the letter. “Following the answer at the end of this month, we will decide to go to the court or not, but I am sure we have a real issue with discrimination,” he added.
If Hungary stands by the law, the Commission is prepared to launch an infringement procedure. “The main tool would be the infringement procedure before the court” requesting Hungary spike the law, Reynders said.
Should Hungary not comply with that request, the case could go to the Court of Justice of the European Union, which could then rule that Hungary must annul or amend the law — and impose a financial penalty if Budapest does not obey.
Reynders added that there were other “tools” the Commission could use against Hungary, ranging from smaller actions — criticizing the country in the Commission’s next report on the rule of law in Europe — to larger ones — withholding pandemic recovery funds through a new rule-of-law budget mechanism.
“We have different tools and we are using the different tools,” Reynders said.
Reynders’ comments mark 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.
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