International 25/06/2021

Orbán's homophobia divides European Union

Dutch prime minister invites Hungary to leave the Union while eight eastern governments remain complicit in silence

3 min
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

BrusselsHungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took centre stage at a European summit which had already had two other uncomfortable topics on its agenda: Turkey and Russia. But in the end the discomfort came from home. Before dinner, the EU-27 ended up discussing with the ultra-conservative the controversial law that aims to ban homosexuality. The debate was heated, according to several sources ,and escalated to the point that the always clear and direct Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, invited Hungary to do as the United Kingdom and leave if it does not want to respect the values of the Union. Along with Orbán, however eight Eastern countries, such as Poland and Romania, did not show the same disapproval the rest.

In the early hours of the morning, the division was already evident. The buildings of the European Parliament, of several embassies and even many around Jubelpark, right next to where the Twenty-Seven were meeting, wore the colors of the LGTBI flag in protest against the Hungarian law and against the UEFA's decision not to allow the Muncich football stadium where Hungary and Germany faced each other to be lighted in the rainbow colours. And not only that: upon arrival, Orbán found that 17 of his counterparts, with Spain and Luxembourg in the lead, had sent a letter to the presidents of the institutions calling on them to "combat discrimination" against LGBTI people. But the EU is made up of 27 members, with a clear East-West rift.

"We must continue to fight discrimination against the LGTBI community and reaffirm our defence of their fundamental rights. Respect and tolerance are at the heart of the European project," says the text, which makes no direct reference to Hungary. The letter comes in the context of LGTBI Pride Day (June 28) and "in light of the threats to fundamental rights and in particular to the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The text is softer than the one pushed earlier this week by some 15 EU European affairs officials, in which they directly urged the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to take all necessary measures against Hungary to withdraw a law that they consider contrary to the values of the European Union.

"Hungary has no place in the EU"

It was after ministers' letter and just before the European Parliament opened proceedings against the Commission for late action that Von der Leyen called the Hungarian law a "disgrace" and sent a written request to the Hungarian justice minister to withdraw it. Orbán, however, stood firm both inside and outside the meeting. "The law defends the rights of children and parents. It is not an issue of homosexuality." The ultra-conservative leader even told reporters that he himself defended the rights of gay people when he fought against the communist regime that discriminated against them. Inside the room, according to diplomatic sources, he maintained exactly the same position and at no time showed any willingness to withdraw the law as Brussels is demanding.

But the discussion around the oval room was heated. The Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, arrived with an LGTBI flag on his lapel, and the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, was one of the most explicit and did not hesitate to speak in the first person: "To say now that this is because maybe I saw something on TV when I was young is unacceptable". According to the same sources, Rutte, Bettel and Sánchez were the most forceful leaders against Hungary. Before the meeting, the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, special guest at the summit, called any discrimination against LGTBI people "unacceptable".

However, at the meeting, Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Bulgaria were either silent or supported Orbán's position, albeit less eloquently. Poland, for example, supported him, and Slovenia, which will take over the rotating presidency of the Council next month from Portugal, avoided getting involved. In fact, Portugal did not sign the letter so that it could maintain the neutrality required by its position. Romania has also received warnings or even infringement proceedings from the European Commission for violating the principles of the rule of law.

One of the arguments for slowing down the entry of new countries into the European club, such as northern Macedonia, is precisely the fact that the latest wave of accessions has not yet been consolidated: Bulgaria or Romania joined the European club in 2007. Other voices, such as the leaders of the institutions and the former president of the Council, Poland's Donald Tusk, argue that the best way to promote European values is to include these countries and support them with the resources and structures of the Union to consolidate them.

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