Tuesday

25th Jan 2022

Hungary's recovery ratification on hold, amid anti-LGBTIQ row

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen called Hungary's law that mixes pedophilia with homosexuality a 'disgrace' (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU Commission and most MEPs called on Hungary on Wednesday (7 July) to repeal its discriminatory new laws against LGBTIQ people - as the EU executive put ratification of the country's recovery plan on hold amid corruption concerns.

The Hungarian law, which comes into force on Thursday, prohibits sharing content on homosexuality or sex reassignment to people under 18 in school sex-education programmes, or show homosexuality in films and advertisements available to minors.

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The commission also asked Hungary to reinforce anti-corruption guarantees in its Covid-19 recovery plan before it can be approved by the EU executive.

In a debate in the European Parliament, commission president Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs that in the new Hungarian legislation "homosexuality is equated with pornography".

"This legislation uses the protection of children as an excuse to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation, " von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

"It is a disgrace," she said, adding that if prime minister Viktor Orbán's government does not "rectify the situation", the commission will take legal action.

The EU executive has already warned Hungary in writing how the new law breaches EU rules, and it is currently analysing the response of the Hungarian government - after which it could launch a legal probe.

Orbán faces a national election next year, and has argued that the new law is about protecting children and does not discriminate against sexual minorities.

His chief of staff on Wednesday told press that the EU's efforts to force Hungary to repeal the new law will be in vain.

The law has caused a major outcry last month among EU leaders at their Brussels meeting, when Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte led the onslaught against Orbán over the legislation.

Anti-corruption guarantees

The commission in the meantime continues to assess Hungary's Covid-19 recovery plan, and asked for better protection of EU funds by Budapest.

It comes after repeated calls by MEPs to the commission to better control the money it hands to Orbán, and multiple reports from the EU's anti-fraud agency, Olaf, raising concerns over irregularities in Hungary's way of spending EU money.

The national plans unlock the EU funds allocated to each member states. Hungary is slated to receive €7.2bn.

"We are continuing to work with the Hungarian authorities," said a commission spokesperson, adding that the EU executive is assessing the plan.

The commission has two months to assess the plan, which will expire on 12 July, but the commission is unlikely to give the green light by then.

The plans need to tackle issues the commission has laid down in so-called "country-specific recommendations", and EU governments could unlock tranches of EU recovery funding as they meet the targets linked to those recommendations.

The commission's 2019 recommendations for Hungary include a call for Orbán's government to "reinforce the anti-corruption framework, including by improving prosecutorial efforts and access to public information, and strengthen judicial independence".

In its 2020 analysis the commission points out that "investigation and prosecution appears less effective in Hungary than in other member states".

It adds that "determined systematic action to prosecute high-level corruption is lacking".

Economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni on Wednesday stressed the need for appropriate milestones in Hungary's stimulus plan.

The commission is assessing "the control-and-audit mechanism, the non-discrimination and equal treatment between beneficiaries" of the EU funds and "the challenges to the rule of law," Gentiloni told journalists in Brussels.

Asked on the commission's latest move to ask for guarantees from Budapest, Green MEP Daniel Freund told reporters in Strasbourg that he hopes that the commission achieves "something meaningful" and "that we don't just face a situation in a couple of weeks when with minor changes the plan is approved and money is disbursed without real changes on the ground," he added.

"I think it is legitimate to demand for more controls, anti-corruption guarantees, and I hope that the government can for once put their business interest aside and actually think about the greater good of the people," Hungarian liberal MEP Katalin Cseh said.

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