Friday

15th Feb 2019

Hungary and Poland: EU capitals of homophobia

  • 'Fight for equality in Europe is, regrettably, a live one,' Guy Verhofstadt said (Photo: QueenSunshine)

Hungary and Poland have come out as the EU capitals of homophobia by boycotting a gay rights declaration.

Hungary's employment minister and Poland's "family minister" were the only ones who declined to back the text in Brussels on Thursday (6 December), which urged the creation of a "safe" environment on the internet for young "LGBTIQ persons" and other minorities.

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  • The European Commission sponsored an EU boat at Amsterdam Pride two years ago (Photo: Bob Lefevere)

Austria, which chaired the EU meeting, and the other 25 member states, published it anyway, but Hungary and Poland's defiance meant the document was downgraded to an informal status.

"LGBTIQ inclusion and equality are core values of our European Union. This is where I draw the line. We will never compromise our principles," Dutch social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees said.

"The debates were really tough," an Austrian spokeswoman said.

"We really tried to find common ground here. If you have member states that block it, I think it's unfair to project that on the presidency," she added.

In another snub to Hungary and Poland, 19 EU states, led by Malta, backed a second declaration the same day, which called for the European Commission to draft an LGBTIQ rights strategy in 2020.

Their embassies tweeted out messages with rainbow emojis, the hashtag #LoveisLove, and comments such as Belgium's: "Together we say 'no' to discrimination on grounds of gender or sexuality".

Hungary and Poland's veto of the EU declaration was "regrettable", but the EU26 text showed "the EU cannot be taken hostage by two countries and be forced to dismantle agreed non-discrimination standards," Katrin Hugendubel from Ilga-Europe, a gay-rights NGO in Brussels, said.

The EU26 and EU19 texts meant Europe was "drawing a line" on values, in "very reassuring" developments, Ilga-Europe's Evelyne Paradis added.

Some would have liked to see more signatures on the EU19 text.

"It's worrying that so many EU countries didn't [sign]. This shows the fight for equality in Europe is, regrettably, a live one," Guy Verhofstadt, a leading Belgian liberal MEP, said.

But Thursday's events still left Budapest and Warsaw looking like they were out in the cold.

Both of their right-wing governments have a track record of blocking EU gay rights texts.

Poland, which has one of the worst scores on gay rights in Ilga-Europe's ranking, did it in October when it stopped the EU from signing off on Europe's Fundamental Rights Charter.

Hungary fares better in the Ilga-Europe ranking, but it also blocked adoption of an EU gay rights action plan in 2016.

They say EU gay rights activism impinges on their sovereignty and goes against conservative values in Hungarian and Polish society.

But other Roman Catholic countries and Orthodox Christian ones, such as Italy and Spain or Greece and Cyprus, saw no problem in signing both EU texts on Thursday.

Hungary and Poland's ruling Fidesz and Law and Justice parties mix homophobic rhetoric, with xenophobic, antisemitic, and eurosceptic language at home.

They are also embroiled in EU sanctions procedures on abuse of rule of law and in court cases on boycotts of EU decisions on taking in Muslim migrants.

But if Thursday's rebellion further eroded their political capital in mainstream EU circles, then the rainbow-emoji tweeting member states also fell short of full support for gay rights.

Bill still stuck

Among other issues, the meeting took stock of an EU anti-discrimination bill meant to extend protection of LGBTIQ people and other minorities from the workplace to broader "access to goods and services".

The directive has been blocked in the EU Council for years, in the past by Germany, which quibbled over the cost of installing wheelchair access in bars and cafes.

"Two delegations have maintained a general reservation on the proposal as such," the Austrian EU presidency said after Thursday's discussion, hinting, once again, at Hungary and Poland.

But "for the time being, all delegations have maintained scrutiny reservations on the text," it noted.

"Extensive further political discussions will be needed before the required unanimity can be reached in the Council," Austria said.

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